The Unseeing

The UnseeingThe Unseeing by Anna Mazzola
on January 1st 1970
Pages: 368
ISBN: 1472234731
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“Remember that, while women are often very good liars, they are generally less capable of independent and complex thought. It will therefore be necessary to subject her account to rigorous scrutiny- test her on each point; push her; catch her out.”

This book is a work of fiction based on the real murder of Hannah Brown which became known as the “Edgeware Road murder” due to where the first body part was found. Subsequent body parts were found in various locations and the writing on one of the bags led the investigators back to James Greenacre and Sarah Gale. Upon their arrest, Sarah Gale stated that she knew nothing of the murder and dismemberment of Hannah Brown.

I love books based on real events especially on historical events/crimes. The author did take some liberty with some characters – she describes which ones and why in her “Historical Note” The newspaper clippings used in this book were from the real case. Don’t read the Historical Note until you finish this book!

I knew nothing of this case when I started this book and I think that is the best way to read this book. Go in not knowing the facts except for those given in the synopsis of this book. Set in 1837, Sarah Gale has been sentenced to Hang for being an accomplice in the Murder of Hannah Brown. No one believed her when she stated that she did not know about the murder or the hiding of the body parts. In Mazzola’s book, the reader is shown Sarah’s plight as she is in a women’s prison, her petition for mercy and her meetings with Edmond Fleetwood, her appointed attorney. The reader is shown the harsh conditions of the women’s prison, the treatment received from the guards and imprisoned women’s interactions with each other.

“Criminal Women, as a class, are found to be more uncivilised (his spelling) than the savage, more degraded than the slave, less true to all womanly instincts than the untutored squaw of a native American Indian tribe.” – “Criminal Women” by M.E. Owen, Churchill Magazine 1866

I loved how the Author had me guessing the entire book as to Sarah’s innocence or guilt, was she knowledgeable or was she a victim herself? In the book she really does not do much to help herself, she is mainly quiet. She does always maintain that she knew nothing. Her attorney struggles with whether Sarah Gale is protecting someone, is she telling the truth or is she to blame?

Plus, the viewpoints on women at the time are also on display in this book:

“No, indeed, she was convicted of something far worse. You see, once a woman has begun to descend the slippery slope of of immorality, there is no limit as to what she is capable of. Falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus. Remember that Edmund. Once a woman has lost her sexual scruples then she will stop at nothing.”

This book stops at nothing in bringing this case alive. I was sucked in from the very first sentence and desperately wanted to know the truth. This book is a mystery and I felt that I, along with Sarah Gale’s attorney, was on a quest to determine Sarah’s innocence or guilt. Although this book does deal with a brutal murder and dismemberment – these scenes are NOT shown whatsoever in this book. This book is not graphic in the blood and guts/gore sense. It is a mystery that deals with a real case and historical facts. This book shows how people are judged on appearances, on group mentality, and by those with hidden agendas. Investigators in the 1800’s did not have the forensic tools that we have today, they had eye witness accounts, bias, and the forensics of that time to investigate their cases. One was not innocent until proven guilty in those days – they were guilty until proven innocent.

I found this book to be riveting, well-written and captivating. Was she innocent? Was she guilty? I went back and forth while reading this book with regards to her involvement or lack of involvement. I thought this book was extremely well done and loved the real newspaper clippings added to the book.

***This book is an EDGAR Award Winner.