It is London, 1837, and the news on everyone’s lips is the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding day. Murdered and dismembered, her body parts were scattered around London – gruesome parcels awaiting discovery. Standing accused of the murder are her fiancé James Greenacre, and Sarah Gale – officially Greenacre’s housekeeper, although it’s no secret that the two were lovers.
The novel opens following the trial as Sarah is transported to Newgate, having received the death sentence despite her statement that she had no part in or knowledge of the murder.
Appealing for clemency, her case is assigned to young lawyer Edmund Fleetwood, who has just shy of two months to investigate and determine the role that Sarah played in the events, and whether her sentence is fair. Yet Sarah is reluctant to speak, even now that she has another chance to argue her case, and it is down to Edmund to tease the details from her as the deadline for his recommendation approaches.
Told from the alternating perspectives of Sarah and Edmund, the reader begins to learn more about these two individuals, and how they’ve got to where they are now. For Edmund, we see how his overbearing father has dominated his life, whilst for Sarah we start to sympathise with her harrowing background. However, it’s clear that she is holding something back, and I found that my sympathy waxed and waned depending upon the latest snippet of information that I’d been provided with. If she knows something that will help her case, why not share it – surely only the guilty would act in this way? This frustration is shared by Edmund, who struggles to obtain the information he needs.
This is Mazzola’s debut novel, and is a fictional retelling of real events – Hannah Brown was murdered and dismembered in a case that became known as the Edgeware Road Murder, due to her torso – the first body part discovered – having been found there. Mazzola has clearly spent a significant amount of time researching the case, and this shines through. Whilst in reality Sarah’s role in murder were never fully determined, Mazzola does bring The Unseeing to a successful and, for me, unexpected conclusion.
I really enjoyed Mazzola’s writing style, which is clever without being unnecessarily flowery or overdone. Her writing is incredibly evocative of both time and place, and it was easy to imagine walking through London, or being locked in a cell at Newgate as the door slams shut. The conditions – both good and bad – felt realistic, and it’s clear that Mazzola has worked hard to give this novel an authentic feel.
There are obvious parallels between this novel and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, and I think that The Unseeing will appeal to fans of both novels, as well as those who enjoy historical crime novels.
The Unseeing will be published on 14 July – many thanks to Ella Bowman and Tinder Press for the ARC.