Author – Anna Mazzola
Published – 14 July 2016
Genre – Historical fiction
This is one of those books that just magically popped though my letterbox and the intriguing cover on the proof (plain but for the image of the eye that’s on the hardback cover) attracted my attention while it was sitting at the top of my TBR pile.
This is historical crime fiction and based on a true story. I do find these can be a bit hit and miss for me – it needs a light touch on the facts or my interest wanes (The Devil’s Acre by Matthew Plampin springs to mind) but The Unseeing was a hit for me. The book opens in 1837 as Sarah Gale is taken to Newgate Prison for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown, the woman who was going to marry Sarah’s common-law husband.
The story is told from two points of view – Sarah’s during her incarceration and that of Edmund Fleetwood, who is appointed by the Home Secretary to review the case. As Edmund tries to draw out of Sarah the truth of the events that led to her imprisonment we learn more about the background to both their lives. Edmund undertakes his task diligently with a mix of interview and investigation. Both are intriguing characters although it’s obvious to both the reader and Edmund that Sarah is hiding something which would be pertinent to her defence. And every time I thought I knew what it was I was wrong! The case also has more of an impact on Edmund than he could have anticipated too.
I really enjoyed the atmospheric setting and the historical details – I have no idea how you research the lives of ordinary people to bring the feeling of accuracy that this had, but it brought the period to life for me.
Anna Mazzola is a criminal justice solicitor, based in London. Whilst this is her debut, it has won awards including the Brixton Bookjam Debut Novel competition and she came runner up in the 2014 Grazia First Chapter competition judged by Sarah Waters.
This is an accomplished debut and a compelling story – think a mix of Burial Rights and The Silversmith’s Wife. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy of the book. You will have an opportunity to meet Anna and hear more about her book at Crimefest in May.