Part One: Reading and Listening to an Abundance of Mysteries

Vintage_MurderIf I’m not reading romance, then my genre fiction of choice is the murder mystery, not too gory, or too puzzle-y. For the past few weeks, in tandem with the Bowen romance I reviewed, I read Dorothy Sayers’s Strong Poison, Sujata Massey’s The Widows of Malabar Hill and, in audio, the second and third Ruth Galloway mysteries, Elly Griffiths’s The Janus Stone and The House at Sea’s End. I enjoyed the three, four really, and recommend them to any reader who, like me, likes to torment herself by following series, awaiting, anticipating each volume (at least the Sayers are, um, finite). The slower the writer, the greater the agony. Of the three, Sayers’s Strong Poison is sheer wit and genius; the Massey took a while to get into, but once I gave it a “second chance”, I was engrossed. The Galloways are catnip: I adore the main character, Ruth, an archaeologist who lends her “bone” expertise to the police and ends up working with Norfolk police’s dour and sexy DCI Harry Nelson. In the course of reading and listening, I thought about what I find compelling about crime fiction: it isn’t the mystery, its inception, progression, or resolution. As I’ve said before, I cannot for the life of me recall who died, why, or whodunnit. What I remember and enjoy is the inter-play and inter-weaving of the central crime/mystery and the detecting figures’ personal lives, the messier the better.

Widows_Malabar_HillOf the three, Massey’s Perveen Mistry series is a mere two books in; ah, much to anticipate as I grew to love Perveen, her Parsi family, and Massey’s 1920s Bombay setting. (Honestly, it took me a while to get through the novel because I frequently googled images of the food. YUM! A book with food descriptions often wins me over and these are magnificent.) What kept me reading, often late into the night and up early before the work-set alarm, was Perveen’s story as it intersected with the eponymous widows and women’s status in Bombay’s complex society (Brits, Parsis, Hindus, and Muslims).

In her author’s note, Massey says she modelled Perveen after Bombay’s first female solicitors. Masterfully, while Perveen cannot enter a courtroom (because woman!), she can enter the Muslim widows’ secluded world. When the women’s husband dies, their story becomes a complicated intrigue of women’s property and child rights, with three sets of claims, an adherence to Islamic religious edict as to division, and male greed over women who cannot move within society to ensure their rights, Perveen is their perfect champion, with the help of her mercurial solicitor father, Jamshedji, and supportive family, mother, brother, and sister-in-law. What made the novel even more compelling is Perveen’s personal history (spoilers incoming).

The novel alternates between its 1921 “present-day” setting to Perveen’s teen years in 1916-17. At the time, Perveen, against her parents’ wishes, who wanted her to continue her schooling, fell in love. Cyrus, her “boyfriend,” was of an up-and-coming Calcutta family, the Parsi version of “nouveau riche” if I understood correctly, and urged marriage. With Perveen’s reluctant parents’ agreement, she married Cyrus and moved to Calcutta where their promised idyllic marriage soon thereafter turned nightmare. Her mother-in-law forced Perveen into seclusion during menstruation, forbidding her to bathe and keeping her in a disgusting tiny room; her husband turned out a philandering, negligent reprobate. Perveen’s indomitable spirit, determination, and sheer chutzpah permeate the novel as we learn, piecemeal, of her escape, with her family’s help. Like Jane Eyre (thus far, Rochester turned nightmare), she learns to curb her impulsivity and become a measured, clever, and only occasionally impetuous sleuth (no TSTL moments for our Perveen: Cyrus was her coming-of-age moment and she’s never going back). I loved Perveen, her family, and the Bombay setting and can’t wait to see where Massey takes her feminist message, fascinating context, and loveable detective next. (P.S. It’s in the TBR, stay tuned.)

To follow, my next posts will be about Sayers’s Strong Poison and Elly Griffiths’s numbers two and three Ruth Galloway mysteries, The Janus Stone and The House At Sea’s End.

12 thoughts on “Part One: Reading and Listening to an Abundance of Mysteries

  1. I enjoyed this one, though I had my doubts about the number of pages devoted to the folly of Perveen’s impulsive marriage. I wanted more of confident, modern Perveen and I definitely wanted more with her wily father.
    I am reading the second one now. The action takes Perveen away from her comfort/confidence zone in Bombay. That’s all I’m willing to say at this point.

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    • Jamshedji Mistry!!! I’m a big fan too: when he defended her in that court, what a great scene. I kind of enjoyed the foolish marriage bits, though I didn’t think the courtship was sufficiently fleshed out (ha ha) or developped. But I think maybe it’ll serve as a kind of coming-of-age of Perveen narrative. We’ll see if Cyrus “shuffles off the mortal coil” and Perveen gets a love interest. That extra hospital scene with him was WEIRD.

      ‘Nuff said regarding Perveen #2: it’s in the TBR for right after I finish Pym’s Excellent Women.

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  2. I’ve never l listened to the Elly Griffiths books, but have read them all, just got her latest ‘The Stone Circle’ from the library. So am all set with my cup of tea and comfy chair to spend my Friday evening in Norfolk with Ruth & co.

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    • Oh, I’m not a big audio fan, just trying to get through the last vestiges of my now defunct Audible account. I’ve ordered the rest on paper. SADLY, AMAZON HAS #4, NEXT ONE UP FOR ME, ON BACK ORDER … all the rest have arrived. 😦 Anyway, they’re wonderful. Your evening sounds positively IDYLLIC and I wish you much enjoyment!

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      • I just terminated my Audible account. Luckily thru my library I have access to Hoopla and RBDigital, so lots of free options. A while back, Amazon had a daily deal on all her Ruth Galloway books, so I splurged and bought them all.

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        • Audible is enjoyable, but not half as much as having a paper book in your hand.

          I’m “stalking” Ellis Peters’s Cadfael series on Amazon: when they go on sale, I click pronto. I have some on paper, but they’re not easy to get. So, I totally get your Galloway splurge, I’d have done the same.

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  3. “What I remember and enjoy is the inter-play and inter-weaving of the central crime/mystery and the detecting figures’ personal lives, the messier the better.”

    Have you read Tana French? Is that a silly question? (I assume everyone who reads mystery has, but you never know.) Since you like the whole interweaving of crime / personal life thing, you would probably love her Dublin Murder Squad books. Technically a series, but I read them out of order. As a bonus, they are well written and don’t treat murder as this glamorous thing done by serial killers, but rather as everyday tragedies.

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    • Not at all a silly question. I read romance pretty steadily from 2013 onwards, till about now, so there are many gaps in miy mystery and other fic reading. I’ve heard of French and been curious about her books, but haven’t read any. So, thank you for the recommendation … *scampers off to do some Amazon clicking*. They sound terrific!

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  4. While I read mostly romance I also read mysteries. I first found romance via my mother’ Georgette Heyer collection, but Mum also had some of Heyer’s mysteries, as well as a selection of Agatha Christies.

    Dorothy L Sayers is one of my favourites of the Golden Age authors. I have been listening to a fascinating podcast called “Shedunnit”. I highly recommend it if you are interested in the mysteries of this era.

    I recently discovered Elly Griffths via her stand alone mystery Stranger Diaries, and have just almost inhaled the Ruth Galloway series in the space of a few weeks – luckily for my wallet I was able to borrow them from my library.

    As we seem to share similar tastes in both romance and mystery, I will give Sujata Massey a try.

    Thanks again for your thought provoking reviews, which have been a great source of new to me authors, as well as evoking fond memories of books I have read in the past.

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    • You’re most welcome! We definitely share a similar taste. I loved Stranger Diaries, adore listening to Shedunnit, and have all the Heyer mysteries on my Kindle!!! I just now finished Ruth Galloway #3, with that ending where Michelle Nelson has *the revelation* about Kate … argh, when will my copy of #4 arrive, Amazong!?

      I do recommend a little patience with the first 70 pages or so of the Massey: the writing style put me off at first and I couldn’t get into the characters. But I’m glad I gave her a second chance because I ended up enjoying it a lot.

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  5. I’m glad you liked the Massey. She does a wonderful job with the setting and the characters. She’s nailed Bombay in the era and the Parsi community as well. I agree with Barb that the marriage part took away from the other, stronger depictions of Parveen. I’m looking forward to both your takes on the second installment. I’m not crazy about princely-state-set mysteries, but I have confidence in Massey’s ability to avoid the obvious and annoying tropes.

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