This is the first in a mystery series featuring Perveen Mistry, the first female lawyer in Bombay (based on the real firsts, Camelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam) set in the 1920s. Perveen is 23, has read law at Oxford, and is employed in her father’s firm as no one else would employ her. She isn’t a member of the Bar since this is still not permitted at that point. Her father’s firm is appointed to execute the will of one Omar Farid, a wealthy mill-owner who was their client. On his death, he has left behind three widows, all of whom are purdahnashin, that is they live in seclusion with no contact with men from outside their family. As a woman lawyer, Perveen is the only one who can speak to them, find out what their wishes are regarding their money, and communicate to them what the law is, and how it can help them. But her efforts aren’t appreciated by all, especially the guardian of the estate, who is clearly not acting fairly, and this spells trouble for Perveen (since he thinks he can intimidate a ‘mere woman’. But when a murder takes place and she continues to investigate, Perveen finds her own life also in danger. Alongside, a second thread of the story takes place taking us into Perveen’s past including the struggles she faced as the only female student in the Government Law College in Bombay, and the decisions in her personal life that had unforeseen consequences that was affect her life in the long run.
This was such an enjoyable read for me. I thought the author captured the whole atmosphere of 1920s Bombay and life in the Parsi community as it would have been back then really well. It felt really authentic, especially some of the customs, mannerisms and language. I also really liked Perveen as a character. She is an intelligent young woman, but also very human—she takes decisions that aren’t always the right ones as all of us do, and also acts impetuously at times. But still she is a likeable character, and a strong one considering all she has borne in her past, as well as feisty in how she deals with the dangers that she faces when investigating the case at hand. She is also confident in the way she conducts herself, not allowing much to intimidate her. I also loved that her family, especially her parents are so supportive of her, are with her every step of the way and taking care even when she is unaware that they are. The mystery was interesting, and also brought forth how life would have been for women in the position that the widows were in—unable to operate in the real world, unable to be safe when their husband was no longer with them, and vulnerable to be taken advantage of by even those who were left to care for them (servants pilfering money and such). I really loved this book and am looking forward to the second in the series which comes out sometime in May.