The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola #bookreview #bookdesign

Details of my copy:

Publisher: Tinder Press 2016

Paperback: 357 pages

Typeset in Aldine 401 BT by Avon DataSet Ltd

Paper is made from wood grown in well-managed forests

Goodreads blurb:

A young woman is sentenced to hang for a gruesome murder. Is she a dangerous criminal, or the victim of a terrible injustice?

In 1837, a woman’s dismembered body is found scattered across London. Sarah Gale, a seamstress and fallen woman, is sentenced to hang for her alleged role in the murder; although she professes her innocence, she is hiding darkness in her past.


Edmund Fleetwood is the young, idealistic lawyer tasked with Sarah’s case. The stakes for both are high: Edmund has untold gambling debts he must urgently settle, and Sarah is desperate to escape the gallows. But as the two grow closer, the barriers between confessor and penitent start to blur, and Edmund can’t be sure if Sarah is a victim or a murderer.

My reading experience:

I ‘won’ my copy of The Unseeing from the author Anna Mazzola on twitter – my copy arrived signed and with a personally address postcard. That was the author’s first win! And then I started reading and the winning continued …

The prologue captures the murder of Hannah Brown – the reader is immediately transported to a living crime-scene, bloody, brutal and mysterious. Welcome 1837, the dank and grimy streets, the laudanum filled lives of poverty, the gin fuelled iniquity, the hypocrisy of the middle classes and the infancy of police work and investigation. The mayhem of Bedlam and the chaos of Newgate prison, the immaturity of medicine and diagnosis –  the Romantic era heralded the bloody entertainment of murder and madness.

Sarah is a character of depth and division. A mother, a sister, and yet a sealed box of secrets, she is torn between her family and her circumstances as a prisoner in Newgate sentenced to hang. Her investigator Edmund is also divided. Expected to remain objective, he can’t help but draw comparisons to his own life and family, and show humanity towards Sarah. As the reader, I was trying to see the clues, to work out what Sarah was keeping a secret. I speculated and calculated – I tried to imagine Sarah’s life as single mother in 1837, I tried to imagine the sensation of being starved in prison, and the blanketing darkness of the cell. I was as taken with Sarah as Edmund seemed to be.

As the story unfolds and the fog was lifted, I had goosebumps. This book reaches a spine-tingling conclusion that I truly enjoyed right to the last. Remember, this isn’t a 21st century story, this is set in the 19th century, the era of penny-bloods, opium dens, public executions – murder and melodrama for the masses.  Sarah and Edmund seem to be inextricably entwined, and I wondered if this was a love story of sorts. Then I had to remind myself that women were the disenfranchised masses, thought of and portrayed as evil tricksters, selfish and greedy. So I wondered if Sarah was in love with the hope of liberty rather than Edmund – and who could blame her?

I don’t want this review to have spoilers, but I do want to comment on the fact that this is a work of fiction based on fact, so even when you get to the end, there is a chance for even more if you’re that kind of person. I love a bit of historical research, so don’t mind if I do. Anna has done something very clever, she has woven historical fact throughout her story in a subtle yet informative way. In the acknowledgements the books used for research are listed, and one of them has been a firm favourite of mine since 2015 when I was writing my Masters dissertation on books bound in human skin: Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder (HarperPress, 2011).

flanders

You’ll have to read this amazing piece of artistry from Anna Mazzola to find out for yourself, but I have been suitably impressed and look forward to her next novel.

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