One of my interests is in notorious murder cases… growing up, my mum would have true crime books around the house and when I was old enough, I was allowed to read them. As I’ve got older, I’ve been more interested in historical cases and I particularly enjoyed reading Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder (I have been reliably informed that it was!), which told the tale of how appearances and crime became so intertwined in the 19th century. I can’t remember if the Edgeware Road Murder was one that was included in the book, but it is the subject of Anna Mazzola’s debut novel.
The plot of the novel is a fictionalisation of the life of Sarah Gale, the co-accused in the trial for the murder of Hannah Brown. A young lawyer, Edmund Fleetwood, is charged with investigating whether Sarah has reason to appeal the death sentence that has been handed down; she has been found guilty of concealing the death and dismemberment of her love rival by James Greenacre, an altogether shady character. Desperate to save her life and her son, what will Sarah do in order to survive? And, most importantly, will Edmund be willing to fight for her life? Throughout, we meet a cast of characters that takes us throughout the ranks of society from the very poor to the top of government.
Told from the points of view of both Sarah and Edmund, the novel takes the reader through the murky world of London just before Queen Victoria ascended the throne. The contrast between Edmund’s middle class life and that of Sarah, stuck in hellish Newgate, is keenly observed and highlights the hopelessness that was rife in the legal system. Anna Mazzola is also a lawyer, and a legal eye is very much in evidence here, although it is worn lightly (there is no fear of heavy explanations of the law interrupting the flow of a good story!)
I very much enjoyed the novel; there are some pretty stonking twists, including one near the end about something which had been mentioned in passing and that I’d almost forgotten about. There were suspicions that were proven right, too. It was a highwire act of a story- enough to make the reader have those ‘aha!’ moments, but also those ‘where did THAT come from?!’- that make a story so exciting and enjoyable to read. It can be very easy for novels based on real life to list facts and lose the essential thread that’s so important when writing a good narrative. Thankfully, The Unseeing does not fall into that trap and is a very satisfying read indeed.