The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey - For her second legal mystery Indian solicitor, Perveen Mistry, travels from her Bombay home into the Sahyadri Mountains to the princely state of Satapur.
It is 1922. Mistry, the first woman lawyer in Bombay, has been asked by a senior councilor to the English Governor, Sir David Hobson-Jones - father of her best friend Alice - to meet with the widow, the maharani Mirabai, and the mother, the dowager maharani Putlabai, of the late maharaja of Satapur. The women are locked in a dispute over the education of his son, the maharaja Jiva Rao, who is 10 years old. Mother wants him to go to boarding school in England while Grandmother wants him tutored at home.
Mistry has been retained because, as a woman, she can meet directly with the women who are in seclusion observing purdah after the maharaja’s death.
In the first book of the series, The Widows of Malabar Hill, Mistry was able to resolve an estate and solve a murder because her status as a woman allowed her to meet with women who are in seclusion.
After hours on the train and more hours riding a mail cart she arrives at the remote principality. While the dispute began 6 months earlier the rainy season had effectively cut off communications.
The Prime Minister, Prince Swaroop, is the brother of the late maharajah and the son of the dowager maharani.
Mistry gains some information from the English representative, Colin Sandringham. He is considered a cripple in the Indian Civil Service as he has lost part of a leg.
To reach the palaces of the maharanis Mistry must travel by palanquin and foot. The uncomfortable nature of a swaying palanquin over rough trails seems hardly better than walking.
The maharanis are free with barbed remarks about each other with little regard to the effect upon the children.
Mirabai is convinced her older son was murdered and her younger son is in mortal danger. Mistry, having heard of the recent deaths of husband and older son, has suspicions concerning their deaths.
The maharanis practise a form of purdah that has more accessibility than the rigid Muslim practice of seclusion.
Can Mistry find a solution balancing the contrary opinions of two strong willed women?
She is precisely logical in her analysis of the educational options and in her recommendation.
The drama does not end with her visit to the palaces of the maharanis. Will her status as a representative of the Crown protect her against danger? I am not fond of legal mysteries where the lawyer is put at risk physically. I was pleasantly surprised when Mistry uses her legal skills in a risky situation.
Once again Mistry is involved in a major estate dispute where the surviving women are in conflict. They may have little contact with the world outside the palaces but they are fierce in advancing their positions. Mistry may have found a niche in handling disputed estates.
I did miss that there was little more in The Satapur Moonstone about Mistry’s life. Taking her out of Bombay severly limits the contacts that would expand our knowledge of her past and present personal life. I liked the opening book, The Widows of Malabar Hill, better for its portrayal of Mistry’s life.
I wondered if the title was inspired by one of the earliest mysteries ever written, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It was first published in 1868. I read it some time ago and thought it has held up well as a mystery 149 years later.
I intend to read the next in the series.