Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Announcing The Widows of Malabar Hill

Sujata Massey

January has been a big month for Murder Is Everywhere writers. After cheering for the long anticipated launch of Jeff Siger’s An Aegean April, Anna Maria Alfieri and I had the crazy good luck to share the same pub date, Jan 9, for our new historical mysteries. On Pub Day, the two of us found ourselves not in a pub but with elbows on the same table at Mysterious Bookshop in New York. It turns out that we have both written mysteries set in the World War I era about dangerous and degrading customs women living in the British Empire. No, it’s not the same book. I have a signed copy of Anna Maria’s fine book, The Blasphemers, that I mailed home.

I’ve got no room to carry books because I’m on a book tour. And what a tour it is: starting off in the golden warmth of Scottsdale Arizona, zipping up and down the Atlantic Seaboard with its rain and snow, steering south to Virginia and North Carolina, and treading on thin ice in snowy Minnesota and Wisconsin.

January is a tricky month to tour in the US; but it’s high season in India, the setting of my book.

Here’s my spiel: The Widows of Malabar Hill is the first novel in a new legal mystery series. In 1921 Bombay, a young solicitor named Perveen Mistry works under the supervision of her father, Jamshedji Mistry, at his small but reputable law firm. Perveen is the first woman lawyer in Bombay, and many clients are wary of her abilities. She’s eager to prove herself and get beyond the numbing routine of handling contracts and wills.

Looks like Mumbai but it's Scottsdale, AZ, near Poisoned Pen Bookstore

First book signed on the tour at Poisoned Pen

An opportunity presents itself when a man sends a letter to Mistry Law asking for assistance in helping three widows donate all their inheritances to a family trust. The widows live in purdah in a communal household that was once headed by their husband, Omar Farid, who has passed away. This leaves the widows unable to go out into the world to talk with bankers or anyone else. When Perveen goes to call on the Farid widows, trouble ensues, and she becomes embroiled in a murder investigation. Should she protect the widows—or is doing so leaving a dangerous criminal unfettered?

Signing in Chicago with Soho author Samira Ahmed, left

Fun sign at Subtext Books in St. Paul

This novel is inspired by India’s first two women lawyers, Cornelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam. In the 1890s through the 1920s, respectively, these pioneers specialized in serving women and children whose voices had gone unheard. Cornelia Sorabji is well known enough to finally have a bronze bust statue in London’s legal powerplace, Lincoln’s Inn. Its fitting as this is where she was admitted to the London Bar after her years working as a solicitor in British and princely India. Mithan Tata Lam is not as famous as Cornelia, but she was the first woman admitted to an Indian bar association  (the Bombay Bar) and was instrumental in revising the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act in the 1930s.

Winter lake scape in Milwaukee. I signed at Lynden Sculpture Garden

The laws that kept women down are a major force in my novel—a force that Perveen Mistry has to reckon with when seeking to protect the women’s interests. This part of the book is only too real. Indian family law was established by the British government and senior men in the Muslim, Hindu and Parsi communities. Each faith group had a separate legal code that outlined rules such as the allowable age for marriage, what percentage various family members were allowed to inherit from an estate, and whether divorce was allowed.

Winter wonderland in Minneapolis

We were all dressed for a snowstorm at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis

The other big element in Perveen’s story is the city of Bombay (now renamed Mumbai). It’s a setting I’ve visited several times and truly adore.  The book has scenes all over the city, in places ranging from the title’s Malabar Hill (a lovely hillside neighborhood for the rich) to Fort, the original British settlement in the center of town, which includes Elphinstone College, the Sassoon Library, and Bruce Street, which houses the family law firm and Yazdani’s, a delightful Irani café that actually does exist. There’s even a jaunt to Bandra  Beach, a popular spot for lovers now…and back in Perveen’s day.

Today I may be in Connecticut, where the sky is gray and snow is supposed to fall. So what else is new on this tour? I'll find a way to get to the Wilton Library.

But Bombay’s on my mind.

Phil Schwartzberg, who drew the beautiful maps of Bombay in my book, shows the antique inspiration of an old map he used.

Sujata speaks about The Widows of Malabar Hill at the Wilton Library in Connecticut at 7 p.m. Jan 17; McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village, North Carolina, Jan 20 at 2 p.m.; Politics and Prose in Washington DC Jan 27 at 3:30 p.m.; and at Bookshop West Portal in San Francisco on Jan 30 at 7 p.m. In February 2018, she’ll have events in New Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, India. Exact details of the India tour can be found at her author website.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A French Resolution - How to keep fit like a Parisian

Yes, this is always encouraged and practiced. But apart from l'Amour, ever think of how Parisians stay in shape?
Here are some examples, thanks in part, to the way Parisians incorporate exercise into their daily life. As well as knowing when to stop eating the cheese.
Here's some tip to get in shape the Parisian way.

Take the stairs
Paris is a city in which you may not have much choice in the matter. Only 50 out of 303 metro stations have a lift, and they are about as rare in old apartment buildings, so whether it's negotiating six flights of stairs up to your chambre de bonne or the 104 steps to street level at Abbesses next time the lift decides to take a break, a workout is inevitable on any given day.

Get on your bike - if you can find one
 And when you don't want to walk, skip the Uber and jump on a Vélib  bike that you'll see parked around the city. A hit with Parisians, Vélib has been going for more than ten years now and has the highest market penetration of any bike-sharing scheme globally, with one bike per 97 inhabitants.
There have been some major problems - new docking stations that don't work - recently as a new company took over the running of the service but things look like they are slowly getting back to normal.
Bikes are a great way to beat the traffic getting from A to B, as well as a workout – think of it as a spin class with a view.

Run for the Metro

Parisian commuters love sprint training. And most of them do it every morning on the way to work when they hurtle down the last few steps and across the platform to catch the Metro before it departs – think of it as subterranean interval training. They also give their arm muscles a workout as they force the closing Metro doors back open. Along with applying make-up and talking and texting simultaneously on a mobile phone.
Or you could just take the safe option and jog on the spot until the next one turns up two minutes later. But that's not very Parisian.

Just forget the Metro altogether

Alternatively, ask yourself if you need to take the Metro at all. With stops an average of only 500 meters apart, sometimes you're just as quick - or even quicker walking.  As the map below shows.
Paris is a compact city, only six miles across, and you can walk from one end to the other in less than two hours. Add this to the fact that driving, never mind parking, isn't exactly the most relaxing activity the capital has to offer, and you'll see why Paris is a city of walkers so make like the locals and put your best foot forward.

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, January 15, 2018

My Life-Long Love Affair with Shithole Countries

Annamaria on Monday

Norway is renaming itself in solidarity with the shithole countries

Stan calls him The SCROTUS.  Just this week my friend Ann Daniels gave him a new moniker: His Shitholiness--in honor of this past week's new low in Trump's presidential pronunciamentos: a declaration that some countries are shitholes.  (He would, he declared, rather that we bring in people of better countries, like Norway.)  Thereby, he vilified many of my favorite places.  And he inspired me to show you how happy it has made me, over the past thirty years or so, to visit sixteen of our sacred planet's marvelous, splendid "shitholes."

Take a look a these photos, arranged by continent.  Here they are--my favorite places that are NOT Norway:











Two of the smiling men in this photo are of Norwegian descent.  Neither one is
wishing he had gone to Oslo instead of Cairo




South Africa




I set out here. not to try, with my photos, to prove how wonderful these countries are.  Many photos better than mine are readily viewable on the Internet.  I want to show you how happy these places have made me and my friends.  All those smiles come from being in beautiful places where we found fabulous sites and great people.  True the citizens of the shithole countries are not all tall and pale like Norwegians, but I found the them to be fun, funny, warm, welcoming, and brilliant.

His Shitholiness is famous for not stopping to think.  But if we do, we will remember that Norwegians were the most dangerous, violent, destructive immigrants in human history.  In fact, one might conclude that they invented terrorism.

Just sayin'