Tag: Sujata Massey

#BookBeginnings The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Today we have a historical mystery, The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-button-hurwitz

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

I have read and enjoyed a couple of the novels in Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura mystery series, which are (initially) set in contemporary Japan. In a noticeable departure, this novel is set in Bombay in the 1920s.

Summary:  Perveen Mistry has just joined her father’s law practice, making her one of the first female lawyers in India.  When she notices that the three wives of a deceased wealthy businessman have all relinquished their inheritance, Perveen decides to find out why. Someone is trying to hide the truth, however, and that person is willing to resort to murder. Perveen must figure out what is going on before anyone else is harmed.

First Sentence:

A Stranger’s Gaze
Bombay, February 1921

On the morning Perveen saw the stranger, they’d almost collided.
Perveen had come upon him half-hidden in the portico entrance to Mistray House. The unshaven, middle-aged man appeared as if he’d slept for several days and nights in his broadcloth shirt and grimy cotton dhoti that hung in a thousand creases from his waist to his ankles, His small, squinting eyes were tired, and he exuded a rank odor of sweat mixed with betal nut.

Discussion:

Does it work for you when the author simply states the “where” and “when” at the beginning of the chapter like Massey does here?

Sometimes authors artfully incorporate that information in the first few sentences, but I like when they simply state it, too. I prefer when the author does give away some information about who, where, and when up front rather than leaving us guessing.

I also like that she includes enough information for the reader to figure out that a dhoti might be similar to pants since it hangs from his waist to ankles.

What do you think? Have you read The Widows of Malabar Hill? Would you like to?

Sujata Massey: Author Post and The Pearl Diver Review

Sujata Massey taught English in Japan for several years.  She used her experiences to create the delightful Rei Shimura mystery series.

Novels by Sujata Massey

Rei Shimura series:

  • The Salaryman’s Wife (1997) –review
  • Zen Attitude (1998)
  • The Flower Master (1999)
  • The Floating Girl (2000)
  • The Bride’s Kimono (2001)
  • The Samurai’s Daughter (2003)
  • The Pearl Diver (2004) – reviewed below
  • The Typhoon Lover (2005)
  • Girl in a Box (2006)
  • Shimura Trouble (2008)
  • The Kizuna Coast (December 2014)

Daughters of Bengal:
The Sleeping Dictionary

The Perveen Mistry Investigations
The Widows of Malabar Hill (2018) (historical mystery)

Review:

The Pearl Diver* by Sujata Massey


(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

Rei Shimura has been banned from Japan and is now living in Washington D.C. with her boyfriend Hugh. When her cousin is kidnapped, Rei leaps into action to find her. One thing leads to another and soon she’s also trying to find a Japanese woman who disappeared many years earlier. Are the two cases linked?

Although the novel is no longer set in Japan like the first novel, I still like how Massey works in details of Japanese culture, especially Japanese antiques, food (bento boxes), and pearl diving. The new setting is also concrete and detailed. Massey has a fine touch with setting.

The plot is rich, with many well-developed characters. The front matter includes a “Cast of Characters” list with snippets about a dozen of the more prominent characters. Character lists are always handy references, but aren’t necessary to enjoy this book. Unlike some other novels, the author does a good job of introducing new people so that it is easy to remember who they are.

Compared to her debut novel, which had a few bumps, this one is well done. I particularly liked the ending, which I won’t reveal.

I want to read more of the novels in this series.

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Sujata Massey Author Post

Because I have been reading a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of what I’ve read. I thought the blog would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I’ve read. To get more organized I’m going to try to create an author post for each author with lists of novels. I will update later by linking to newer reviews and marking books as read .

#amreading #mystery The Salaryman’s Wife by Sujata Massey

Let’s take a look at The Salaryman’s Wife by Sujata Massey for our ongoing research into older mystery series.

The Salaryman’s Wife* by Sujata Massey


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

First in the Rei Shimura mystery series, originally published in 1997.

Summary:  Rei Shimura is a 27-year-old Japanese-American woman living in Tokyo, where she barely scrapes by teaching English. During a New Year’s vacation to the Japanese Alps, she discovers the body of one of the guests at the minshuku (family-run inn) where she is staying. Before long she’s caught up in the investigation while trying to avoid becoming the next victim.

**Setting**

This novel is all about the Japanese setting. The lodging, the food, the trips to various village and cities all play an essential part in pulling the reader into the mystery. Because the author spent time teaching English in Japan and takes frequent trips there, she is able to move past the tourist experience. She expertly captures the conflicts and inconsistencies between modern and traditional culture, as well as between Rei’s two sides, American and Japanese culture.

 

Public domain photo of Mount Fuji via Good Free Photos

Characters

The main character, Rei Shimura is in-your-face strong, yet sweetly unaware at times.  Her Japanese-American heritage adds depth to the story. It shows the difficulties of seeming to belong to two cultures and yet being fully accepted by neither. Author Sujata Massey’s parents were from Germany and India, so she understands the conflicts of a mixed-cultural background.

The characters in the story are diverse and interesting. At times it felt like there were way too many characters, some of whom played little role in moving the plot forward. By the end, we find out at least some of the characters who seemed extraneous were in fact involved in ingenious ways. For example, she gives a meal to a homeless man in one scene. Later on he rescues her.

Sujata Massey handles the dialogue well, especially the banter between Rei and her love interest Hugh. At times, however, the content of the dialogue seemed contrived. For example, Rei meets a powerful businessman for the first time and grills him for intensely personal information. He gives her everything she wants straight out. It would have been more realistic if she had to coerce him or if he had toyed with her before spilling. This is a problem I have as a writer, too. Instead of giving each individual in the conversation their own or an opposing agenda, as is the case in the real world, they simply say what is needed to move the story forward.

Discussion

Sex Scenes

In the book we are using for our ongoing reading challenge, The Bestseller Code, the authors state that very few bestsellers contain sex as a topic. It seems like some older mysteries, like this one,  do have sex scenes. Massey’s scenes work well because the sex isn’t gratuitous. The scenes move the story forward because they cement the relationship between two characters and gives them a realistic motive to work together.

Conclusion

Although rough in spots, there are enough gems in this book that I enjoyed it. I’ll be looking forward to reading more in this series.

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