Perveeen Mistry sighed, adjusting her hat on her sweating brow.
The Satapur Moonstone is book two in the Perveen Mistry series set in India in the 1920’s. Whilst book one felt rather undercooked (my own little in-joke as I included a recipe in my response to The Widows of Malabar Hill), book two is far more polished (and a little gemstone pun for my own amusement)!
It is 1921 and Perveen is required to visit a royal palace in the remote Sahyadri Mountains after the death of the maharaja and his teenage son in somewhat doubtful circumstances. The kingdom is now in the care of a British agent, Colin Sandringham, until the younger son comes of age. The dowager queen and her son’s widow live in purdah, but a dispute has arisen over the best way to educate the young crown prince. There is also concern about his safety, given the untimely deaths of both his father and older brother. The only woman in India with a legal background, capable of helping with this tricky situation is, of course, Perveen Mistry.
The titular moonstone necklace is a mystery within a mystery.
Perveen is given a piece of jewellery by a local woman, Vandana, who is a friend of the British agent, to gift the dowager queen upon her arrival (Perveen had arrived completely unprepared for visiting royalty). Vandana said she had purchased the moonstone in Paris many years before. But when presented with the gift, the dowager queen is convinced that it is HER Indian moonstone pendant, originally given to her by her favourite aunt as a wedding present, but lost for at least sixteen years. Suspicions and accusations fly!
Moonstone is prized for its pearly blue to white adularescence — a billowy, moonlight-like sheen.
Indian moonstones come in many different colours. Orange varieties are usually termed “pink moonstone” in India. Many show a cat´s eye effect.
In literature, “moonstones have been depicted as either enhancing or suppressing the abilities of supernatural creatures.” (wikipedia)
Is this pendant the original? How did it end up in Paris? And what is happening to the royal princes? Who could possibly wish them all dead?
Satapur is a fictitious state within the very real Kolhapur Agency group. Massey has included a basic map and a family tree to help us keep track of the various princes. She also weaves in commentary about the position of women in Indian society at this time, as well as caste issues.
A hint of romance is introduced into this book, which I suspect will allow Massey to explore all sorts of colonial, religious and cultural mores in stories going forward. What with Perveen’s Zoroastrianism, her disastrous early marriage from which there is no divorce and Colin’s British heritage – what could possibly go wrong?!
- Parsis are an ethnoreligious group within India whose religion is Zoroastrianism. Their ancestors migrated to the India from Persia in the 7th century CE.
- Zoroastrianism is named after its prophet Zoroaster. It is based on the two fundamental concepts of good and evil. They believe that ultimately, good will defeat evil. Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) is the benevolent deity. The main teachings are to follow the Threefold Path of Asha: Humata, Huxta, Huvarshta (Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds), engage in acts of charity and to be good for the sake of being goodness without expecting reward.
The Satapur Moonstone confirms the hope and trust I felt at the end of book one that the series would grow in strength as it went along. Massey’s natural writing skills have been honed into a much tighter structure, with better plotting and interesting character developments. Just enough red herrings and dubious dealings are introduced to give this book a legitimate claim to the cosy crime genre, but it’s the historical fiction element that keeps me intrigued.
1920’s India is a fascinating time and seeing it through a feminist lens gives the stories a contemporary edge to entice the modern reader.
Book three, The Bombay Prince, is out now, and I may be tempted to jump straight in! The Perveen Mistry series are the perfect lockdown reads.
- Book 18 of 20 Books of
Book: The Satapur Moonstone (Perveen Mistry #2) Author: Sujata Massey ISBN: 9781760529420 Publisher: Allen & Unwin Date: 28 April 2020 (originally published 14 May 2019) Format: Trade Paperback
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.