Set in South London in 1837, this is the story of Sarah Gale, a seamstress, a prostitute and a mother, sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown, a laundress and a rival in love. The idealistic young lawyer Edmund Fleetwood is appointed, at the recommendation of his father, to probe into Sarah’s case and prove her innocence. Yet Sarah refuses to help him, neither lying nor adding anything to the evidence gathered in court. It is up to Edmund to discover just what she’s hiding and why she doesn’t value her life enough to save herself. In the process, Sarah is able to tease out what lies beneath Edmund’s own insecurities and naivety, and that the two of them have more in common than is first perceived.
Her expression closed. The vulnerable Sarah had disappeared; the defences were back in place.
Edmund pressed his lips together. “I see.”
Sarah looked at him straight in the eye. “I’m telling you the truth.”
He nodded slowly. He had thought he was getting somewhere.
The Unseeing is the debut novel of Anna Mazzola, who uses her knowledge as a criminal justice solicitor to provide a detailed and believable story of Edmund’s investigation into the murder of Hannah Brown.
Not a book to be read lightly, Mazzola had created a piece full of suspense, questions and few answers. Why is Edmund so attached to Sarah? Who killed Hannah Brown? Why does Greenacre protect Sarah and why does she stay silent? As readers we are so full of questions as we try to piece together little puzzles and riddles in order to see the big picture. This in itself is made challenging by twists in the story. Relationships between characters are never as they appear and all the answer seem to be behind locked doors and closed minds. With all this to think on, whether Sarah is innocent or not is no longer the most interesting thing.
Mazzola’s background in law allows a clear insight into the processes necessary to Edmund’s investigation but is written with very little jargon to distract the reader from the events unfolding. In many cases, what little legalities are shown are merely a tool to help Sarah continue her telling of her past and how she ended up with Greenacre. More importantly it allows us to discover the similarities between Sarah’s and Edmund’s lives and the intricate lies they tell to themselves in order to keep functioning.
The books incorporates many of the pressing issues from that era – the reliance of women on men in order to survive, the brutishness of the prison system particularly in how it ripped mothers from their children when they were deported, and also the corruption of the legal system – evidence went missing, suspects were considered guilty without clear evidence etc.
Not a story for simply passing the time away, Mazzola’s piece forces you to think about every little nuance in the tales being spun. How is the latest information going to change the lives of those involved. How and why do all these things connect and just why was Edmund chosen to investigate the matter once it had been decided upon. Every tidbit brings forth another two questions to be answered, more dots to connect before the bigger picture is shown. It is one to keep you guessing, and nothing is quite how is seems but in a refreshingly non-cliche manner.