Saturday, 3 August 2019

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey is exactly the type of cosy crime I enjoy reading on a cold, rainy wintery weekend.

Much like the UK series about Maisie Dobbs and the Australian series by Kerry Greenwood about Phryne Fisher, Massey has created the Indian version of these smart, pioneering 1920's women who have the ability to be in the right place at the right time to solve crimes.


Sujata was born in England to parents from India and Germany. She now lives in the US, which may explain why I often felt that the Indian nature of the story was technically correct and well researched, but didn't always feel authentic. I spent most of the book feeling like a tourist, on the outside looking in. I will be curious to hear how one of my fellow book clubbers felt about this though, as she actually grew up living on Malabar Hill in the 1960's.

At times, I had a few quibbles with the 'show don't tell' aspect of Massey's writing and I didn't always feel like I was in 1920's India. Sometimes the dialogue felt awkward and stilted as well. It may have been an accurate reflection of the self-conscious, uneasy tensions that exist when two different classes try to communicate but I'm not sure that's where the problem lay.

However, I cannot deny, that as an easy to read, cosy crime story, The Widows of Malabar Hill was a winner. It has a likeable protagonist in Perveen Mistry and an exotic setting. Being based on versions of a true story gives the book another tick in its favour.

Mistry's backstory was interesting, but at times felt contrived. Perhaps it was all the 'telling' going on rather than showing, revealing and letting the reader get there themselves. Certainly the reader doesn't have to do anything other than just read, Massey does all the work. Despite all the descriptions, I have no residual visual image of the characters or the place. The historical element also felt rather loose. I had to keep reminding myself it was meant to be the 1920's.

I obviously had some technical issues with the writing, but ultimately I enjoyed the story and will probably read the sequel The Satapur Moonstone at some point. You may be surprised to hear that, after all the issues I had with this book, but sometimes a book is just for reading. And sometimes a book leaves you with enough of a warm glow, to make a dreary wintery weekend a little brighter.

Favourite or Forget: I suspect this will fade from my memory fairly quickly.

Food:

My edition comes with a few recipes (of meals eaten throughout the book) at the back. I'm keen to try the Malabar Spinach and Eggs one day.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 2 as breakfast or 4 as part of a dinner
Difficulty: Easy

Here’s a moderately spicy recipe that is a Parsi classic. Malabar spinach, also known as water spinach or poisaag, can be found at Asian grocers and farmer’s markets. Large leaf spinach or swiss chard is a good substitute. You’ll need a wide frying pan with a lid to prepare this dish.

Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons canola, safflower or sunflower oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 4 curry leaves (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 5 diced Roma tomatoes, or one large tomato
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 bunch of Malabar spinach, or substitute greens
  • salt to taste
  • 4 eggs

Method:
  1. Heat oil in a wide, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and optional curry leaves and sauté until onion is translucent.
  2. Add the ginger, garlic, tomatoes, coriander, turmeric, and chilli powder. After the tomatoes are broken down, about two minutes, add the spinach and a few tablespoons of water. Cover with lid and cook for 5 to 7 minutes over low heat, until the spinach is soft. Add salt to taste.
  3. Use a large spoon to make 4 depressions in the soft cooked greens. Break an egg over each of these depressions.
  4. Cover the pan again. If the lid has a curve on its underside, invert the lid and pour a couple of teaspoons of water into the curve. This addition of water heightens the steaming effect as the eggs poach under the lid. Remember to keep the temperature very low.
  5. Peek at the eggs after 3 minutes, and if they are almost set, serve.
Two nights later:
I made an Aussie version of Malabar Spinach and Eggs using bok choy and broccolini. It was perfect for one of our 800 Fast day meals. It was also delicious and the spice mix was great for warming us up on a cold winter's evening.



Facts:

17/20 Books of Summer Winter
Sydney 21℃

6 comments:

  1. You make some good points, but I liked this book better than you did, and found the back-story reasonably believable. In my review I mainly focused on food, which was described throughout the book: https://maefood.blogspot.com/2019/03/indian-food-in-mystery-story.html

    Interesting review.

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not that I didn't like it, it's that the flaws jumped out at me every time I picked it up to read again. They weren't enough to make me abandon the book, but they were enough to bug me at times and they certainly kept me at a distance.

      Delete
  2. I totally agree with this: "but sometimes a book is just for reading" -- yes, you can recognize the flaws but still enjoy the story. Not everything has to be prize worthy. I have this and the second book but haven't gotten to them yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly!

      I think you'll enjoy them Beth & I'm hoping to cook the recipe above for dinner tonight. It's our fasting day today for the Fast800 diet. I think this would be a good contender for a low cal meal.

      Delete
  3. I got to meet the author at the Book Expo a few years back. I haven't read the book yet, but I do plan to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would have been fun. I love meeting authors and hearing about their writing process.

      Delete

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