Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

In 1837, London is abuzz with talk of a heinous crime.  A woman is murdered right at Christmas and parts of her body are found around the city.  First, her torso, then her head and finally her legs.  The woman is identified as Hannah Brown, a woman who owned a laundry and was finally about to get married to a man she had just met.  This man, James Greenacre, was immediately the prime suspect and arrested.  Arrested with him was Sarah Gale.  She and her young son had been living with Greenacre when he threw her out to marry Brown.  When the police came to arrest Greenacre, Sarah was back living with him and was also arrested as an accomplice.  Both are quickly brought to trial and despite their claims of innocence found guilty with a sentence of hanging.

Edmund Fleetwood is brought into the case once the couple are in prison awaiting their sentence.  Sarah Gale had always maintained that she knew nothing of the murder and was nowhere near the house the night Hannah was killed.  James agrees that Sarah is innocent and knew nothing, but sentiment against her led to a quick guilty plea.  Fleetwood is a struggling lawyer with good connections.  His father is one of the most prominent attorneys in London.   Fleetwood is given the chance to make his name when he is asked to review Sarah's case and determine if justice has truly been served.

Fleetwood begins to meet with Sarah.  He is faced with a wall of reserve and mistrust.  As he starts to slowly gain her trust and hears her story, he sees connections with his own upbringing and begins to believe that she is another victim herself; a victim of poverty, lack of connections and general bad luck.  He sees parallels between her and his own mother who was sent away in disgrace for some transgression he wasn't given details of when he was a small boy.  This makes him sympathetic and as the days go by, he starts to believe that Sarah is truly innocent.  But there is still some doubt as she is obviously not telling him everything.  He needs to know everything to make a proper determination and make his recommendation.  Can he find her secrets before time runs out?

This novel is based on a true case.  The author is an attorney herself and lives in London, giving her ample insight into a case such as this.  She explores the exploitation of women in Victorian England and the nature of secrets and what we'll do to protect what we've hidden.  She also questions what we will do for love in all of its forms.  The novel has already won several awards and Mazzola is now working on her next novel, inspired by another true crime.  This book is recommended for mystery and true crime readers.

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