The Unseeing by Anne Mazzola is a historical crime drama that pits a son against his father and a young mother against the world. This book goes under the category of books I have read this year that far exceed my expectations. If you have not heard of this book in the past, don’t feel bad, I didn’t either but now I have to wonder how I missed it. Intricately plotted, Mazzola tells the tale of injustice and struggle amid the turbulent 1800s in London, England.
Sarah Gale is a seamstress and mother, a woman whose life has fallen over the years. Born into wealth and privilege, her life changed drastically when her family was abandoned by her father and Sarah and her sister found themselves abandoned and living on the streets. But her life takes a turn for the worse when she is tried and convicted for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown. Hannah was marrying the man Sarah had been living with for years and now Sarah was to be homeless with her young son once again.
Edmund Fleetwood, the son of a powerful and influential man, is appointed by the Home Secretary to look into Sarah’s petition for mercy. Sarah is sentenced to be hanged and with the brutality of the crime, the city itself wants her dead. Hannah was not only murdered, but her body was cut into pieces and distributed around the city. Sarah is not accused of committing the actual murder but of helping her lover cover it up afterwards. For that, she is sentenced to death. Edmund sees this as a possible opportunity to further his career and remove him from the shadow of his father.
As Edmund digs into the facts of the case, he finds lies and corruption throughout. He is not convinced that Sarah is innocent, but does she deserve to die for her part in covering up the murder. But the going is tough as Sarah refuses to be of any help. What Edmund finds are secrets upon secrets and a life full of pain and hurt. Yet Sarah keeps her secrets to herself and Edmund must battle the system and Sarah to unearth what truly happened to Hannah Brown. But why, Edmund must ask himself, is someone willing to go to the gallows rather than speak what she knows. But those secrets, could very well end up at Edmund’s own door.
I had not heard of Anna Mazzola and The Unseeing prior to picking this one up and though I had read the blurbs, the novel itself did not truly strike a cord with me. But after the first few pages of this book, I was emotionally and intensely involved with the story. Based on an actual murder case, The Unseeing is a powerful tale of the state of justice and the rights of the accused in Victorian England.
Sarah is an intriguing character and her time in prison is both real and depressing. She holds onto what little hope she has, while struggling with the truths that bind her even more than the cell she is locked into. You are never convinced that she is innocent but there is always the thought that she is at the least, innocent of what she is accused of.
But it is Edmund who drives this story. He is relentless of his pursuit of the truth. Even when the truth may cost him his future and his marriage. The world he lives in is as much a prison as where Sarah is kept. The behavior and obligations that are expected of him. The sense that what people think of him is above all else.
Mazzola has written a terrific novel here, infusing it with enough truth and the setting to make the characters come alive. This is a book for lovers of historical fiction. Mazzola has researched her case well. I missed it early on but am so happy to have found it.
This is one not to be missed!