After many years away from reviewing audiobooks I’ve decided to start up again. You can find my old reviews on my old Audiobookfreak blog.
Today I’m diving into four books I recently listened to that all take place in Bombay, India, in the 1920’s and 40’s. It’s a time and place I really know nothing about and I loved every minute of my time in these books.
Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan
Narrated by: Maya Saroya
Series: The Malabar House Series, Book 1
Length: 10 hrs and 41 mins
Release date: August 20, 2020
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
I loved this fictional story of Persis Wadia, the first female police detective in India. Caught in a time of cultural and political revolution, she is strong, hardworking, incredibly smart, and the wrong gender to gain any respect. The story is a great detective story that relies on observation and intelligence rather than force or intimidation. The chief support she has behind her as she pursues the case of a murdered British diplomat is a Caucasian criminalist from Scotland Yard, Archie, who is the right gender to gain respect but can see a glimpse of what her struggle is.
I find the delicacy of how Persis threads her way along the edges of acceptable societal and cultural permissions fascinating. It’s that grey area, between old traditions and the early signs of feminism where she has the most to lose in her quest for the truth that is so compelling. Persis is the type of character who doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve, so picturing her in a world completely filled with men and knowing the depth and complexity of her thoughts as she quietly ignores her detractors is really interesting. Given that just a few decades earlier she wouldn’t have been allowed out without a chaperone really drives that point home.
Maya Saroya is a fantastic narrator who really captures Persis’s frustration, intelligence, and struggles and is a genuine pleasure to listen to.
This was a splendid book and I highly recommend it if you like a good cozy mystery and want to explore a culture that I personally have had very little exposure to.
Author Vaseem Khan just released the second book in the series, The Dying Day. I was part way through the first book when I realized I had already listened to another one of his books, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, the first in the Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation series, which I also loved and I now see there are many more books in that series so I’ll be listening to those as well.
Next are the first three books in the Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey
The Widows of Malabar Hill
Narrated by: Soneela Nankani
Series: Perveen Mistry, book 1
Length: 14 hrs and 34 mins
Release date: January 9, 2018
Published by: Recorded Books
This series follows Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s only female lawyer in the early 1920s. We see her struggles as a woman who cannot do many things in her profession because of her gender, but is also the only person possible who can take on certain tasks because of her gender.
In this book Perveen investigates irregularities in a will for her clients, three Muslim widows living in full purdah, where they are isolated behind a garden wall in and the women’s half of the house, with no direct contact with men who aren’t their relatives. Because she is a woman, Perveen is the only one who can get behind the curtain of the lives of the widows and actually see them face to face.
The culture of her world and the delicate dances Perveen needs to make as she achieves her goals while not crossing the boundaries of social and gender permissions is frustrating and fascinating at the same time. Perveen’s own painful history is revealed as the story progresses, which feels like knowing a train wreck is about to happen and not being able to stop it. This backstory was heart wrenching to get through and there were times I wanted to scream in frustration at how women were controlled in these situations and what little recourse they had. Through all of it, the legal rights (or lack of rights) of women in India at the time are at the forefront of Perveen’s mind and inspire her actions.
Soneela Nankani narrated the first book of this series and was excellent. She has a gentle accent that is warm and she does a good job of handling the variety of voices in the story.
I really loved this book and I couldn’t wait to dive into the second book.
The Satapur Moonstoon (book 2 in the Perveen Mistry series)
Narrated by: Sneha Mathan
Series: Perveen Mistry, book 2
Length: 12 hrs and 1 min
Release date: May14, 2019
Published by: Recorded Books
This second book in the Perveen Mistry series was even more gripping than the first as the author has introduced a potential love interest for Perveen – a love interest who is wrong in so many ways. He is not only not Parsi, as her family is, he is British and white. In the story Perveen is sent to a princeley state in the distant Sahadyari mountains where two widows, the mother and the wife of the prince who has died, are living with the children in purdah (isolation) and are battling with each other in a power play to determine the education, and possibly safety, of the young prince and heir to the throne. It’s a vicious duel of old world and new world thinking. In this story the stakes are higher for Perveen, the physical danger is greater and the emotional and cultural danger is escalated by a forbidden friendship. Perveen and the British agent for the prince’s stately concerns are drawn together, which makes every step she makes look like she’s about to walk on a landmine. Oh, and there is a curse. Curses are always fun!
This book welcomed a new narrator, Sneha Mathan, who has a smooth voice that is extremely pleasing to listen to. She covers a variety of voices exceptionally well and it was hard to remember it wasn’t a cast of actors reading a script but one woman creating distinct and easily identifiable, authentic sounding characters.
The Bombay Prince (book 3 in the Perveen Mistry series)
Narrated by: Sneha Mathan
Series: Perveen Mistry, book 3
Length: 12 hrs and 37 mins
Release date: June 1, 2021
Published by: Recorded Books
As crowds in Bombay riot over colonial rule and the visit from Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and future ruler of India, Perveen is driven to uncover the circumstances behind the death of a young female student who she had briefly met with a week earlier. In this book, the teetering edge of colonial rule and the uprising that turned violent in the streets form the backdrop to the story that still leans heavily on gender roles and power.
In this book, the author, Sujata Massey, continues to allow Perveen to push her own boundaries and experience the effect of the resistance to her growing independence. Colin, the British agent she met in the second book, is in Bombay for the prince’s visit and their friendship and the romantic tension between them grows. The stakes become higher and the danger Perveen faces reaches the point when her survival is seriously in question.
Each of these books also explores the different subcultures that exist in India which I found really fascinating. I found the differences in Parsi, Hindu, and Muslim cultures in India really interesting to the point where I had to research how a Parsi woman would wrap her sari verses how a Hindu woman would wear hers. In my shallow understanding of these worlds, I thought they were all the same. I like it when I learn little details about worlds I know nothing about.
Sneha Mathan continues as narrator for this book and again, I completely forgot that she was reading, and giving depth and character to all the male and female roles. She is an excellent narrator.
And now I wait for a fourth book, which is always frustrating. I discovered that Sujata Massey also wrote the Rei Shimura Mysteries so I will start on those to tide me over.
Book I just finished:
Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith
(read by Robert Glenister)
Book I’m currently listening to:
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
(Read by Susan Duerdan)
Check out the audio for my new kids book
The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers
(read by Michael Gallagher)
Vesta Giles is a Kamloops-based author and filmmaker.