Lawyer Perveen Mistry’s adventures in British India continue in Sujata Massey’s The Satapur Moonstone. Perveen has gained a reputation for conflict mediation between women in purdah (religious and/or cultural seclusion). She can go where men cannot and her strong sense of right and intelligence help her cut through seemingly impossible disputes. That reputation nets her an unlikely job offer from a British governing agency to settle an intractable disagreement between two maharanis in the obscure (possibly fictional) princely state of Satapur.
Though she never says it, I think Perveen was not paid enough to take on the challenges she finds in Satapur. First, there’s the palanquin. Because there are no real roads in Satapur and Perveen is not a confident horsewoman, she has to travel in what appears to be the only palanquin in the state. Then there’s the British agent who she sparks with (even though she is fierce about maintaining her reputation and not letting people know about her disastrous marriage). Then there’s the dispute over the education of the very young maharaja, who has just lost his father and older brother in somewhat suspicious circumstances. And then there are the maharanis. The maharaja’s grandmother, the dowager maharani, is a hidebound woman who wants nothing to change in the state. On the other side is the maharaja’s mother, Mirabai, wants to send her son away to England…because she things someone is trying to kill him.
The Satapur Moonstone is a fast read. (I recommend that readers who are interested in this one pick up the first book in the series, The Widows of Malabar Hill, so that they can be caught up on Perveen’s life before diving into this one.) It seems as though Perveen is barely unpacked for a short stay at the palace of Satapur before people are trying to kill her. There are plenty of suspects and lots of dodgy stories for Perveen to pick apart—and for us to puzzle over as we race our protagonist towards the solution. Even though the plot races along, there are plenty of expository passages to set the stage in the Satapur wilderness and its eerie palace. Massey is a deft touch at drawing characters from a few lines of dialogue and description, too, so I never felt like I was being cheated out of setting or character development in favor of the plot.
The Satapur Moonstone is a fine entry in a series that I’m starting to love. I hope to see more of Perveen in the future. I also hope that we see more of Colin Sandringham, the British agent who likes to do yoga in the jungle without his shirt on. Even though he’s a bit defensive about his missing foot, I developed a bit of a crush on him, too.