The third in the delightful Parveen Mistry series takes us into the heart of early 1920s Bombay, as the emerging Indian independence movement sees protests and riots over the visit of the Prince of Wales and the future colonial ruler.
It is an inspired choice by Ms Massey to make her heroine a young Parsi woman, because behind the outward “westernised” facade of this feisty, courageous Oxford-educated young woman, beats a patriotic, feminist heart. She chafes at the restrictions placed on women – and this was 100 years ago, remember – both societally and professionally, but she is at least blessed with broad-minded parents.
Despite her “westernised” lifestyle and her Oxford education (though she wasn’t allowed to get a degree, like all women at that time), she is deeply patriotic and resents the British colonial presence. Yet she has an as-yet undeclared soft spot for a British official, Colin Sandringham, whom we met in the previous novel, The Satapur Moonstone. She married young, had a disastrous, abusive marriage but her religion forbids divorce, so she potentially faces a lonely, solitary life.
It is these conflicting facets of her character make Parveen so very likeable and relatable-to.
An 18 year old Parsi student dies in her college campus in mysterious circumstances, on the day the Prince of Wales lands in the city, and as Parveen investigates Freny Cuttingmaster’s death, she must negotiate violent city streets, with rioters who target Parsis for their apparent pro-British bias, as well as bitter, grieving parents, and a hostile legal system that does not accept professional women. There is a terrifying moment when we truly fear for Parveen.
A super read, probably the best in this engaging series. Ms Massey flawlessly interweaves a murder mystery, politics and history in a relaxed, easy way.
I have high hopes for another book. Ms Massey cannot possibly leave us high and dry, not knowing what becomes of the burgeoning attraction between Parveen and Colin…
On a final, personal note – as a diehard Bombay/Mumbai lover, who had the privilege of living there for several years, this book is a joy to read for fans of this wonderful city. Set largely in what is now south Mumbai, it is fun to wander the streets with Parveen and re-visit old haunts like the Taj Hotel (the first place I stayed in India, so an indelible memory). The architectural heart of SoBo is still very much the same as it was 100 years ago.