The Unseeing is Anna Mazzola’s Edgar Award-nominated debut, the strength of which will have readers adding this author to their must-read list moving forward. The Unseeing is a unique blend of fact and fiction. The criminal case at the core of the novel really did happen, but of course, Mazzola takes liberties and invents new characters to populate this world and answer questions reality will never afford us.
It is 1837 and Sarah Gale has been sentenced to hang for her part in the cover-up of a vicious crime; a crime that resulted in the burying of body parts throughout London. Edmund Fleetwood is a barrister assigned with interviewing Sarah after she pleads for leniency but refuses to explain why she feels she deserves it. With hopes of encouraging her to open up and reveal what details she knows about Hannah Brown’s murder, Edmund also hopes to use this assignment to highlight his abilities in the legal field to his superiors, including his difficult to please father.
Why would a woman refuse to provide evidence that could easily clear her of any wrong-doing? Anna Mazzola spins out the truth across the many chapters of The Unseeing embedding just the right amount of unexpected developments to keep readers hooked without straying into melodrama.
This is an author who is gifted with the ability to bring the past alive in a very visceral way. These historical details of London in the 1800’s are fascinating and allow Mazzola to make unexpected links to modern society. The conditions at Newgate Prison are horrendous and the treatment of female prisoners reflects that society’s views on women. Readers interested in the origins of feminism will find much to ponder as they follow Sarah Gale’s story to its conclusion.
The interactions between Sarah Gale and Edmund Fleetwood, the bulk of the narrative drive of this novel, feel so authentic that it is hard to imagine Fleetwood is a purely fictional character. As Mazzola uses their interrogation of each other – and make no mistake about it, it is very much a two way street – readers gain important insight into not only the Edgeware Road murder, but also the society that allowed such a crime to occur. Keeping the reader wrong-footed throughout this lengthy interrogation might seem like a challenging prospect, but Mazzola makes it look easy, shifting reader loyalties right up until the very last moment.
There are genuine surprises in The Unseeing. Fans of historical mysteries are encouraged to check this one out. Then, like myself, you can anxiously await the next novel from Anna Mazzola. Fortunately, we have only to wait until July for The Story Keeper.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the audio edition of the novel.