Using the bare bones of a real historical crime, Anna Mazzola has filled in the gaps to present a gripping story, one that feels entirely authentic.
The year is 1837 and Queen Victoria is on the throne, London is a bustling array of work while a woman’s life is dependent on class and money and being married. Meet Sarah Gale who has been sentenced to hang for being an accomplice to the murder of Hannah Brown, a woman cut down on the eve of her wedding. Sarah sits in an impeccably described cell in Newgate awaiting her fate. With the public clamouring for her sentence to be reduced, a lawyer young Edmund Fleetwood is asked by the attorney general to review the evidence and produce a report for him. Edmund goes about his task diligently, but it’s not easy, Sarah has given no real defence and with her former lover about to be hung for murder Edmund has his work cut out for him.
Sarah was a seamstress in London at the time the murder took place with a young son in tow she was ripe for being taken advantage of so when her lover James Greenacre takes up with someone else, that someone being the future victim, Hannah Brown, Sarah shuffles off to a local boarding house wondering how she was going to keep herself and her son out of the ever looming fear of the workhouse.
Anna Mazzola really conjures up the time period for us in this pitch-perfect historical thriller with the details of the time period delicately placed so that never once did it feel like that her obviously meticulous research had been indiscriminately scattered across the pages. And then there is the plot, the most obvious and troubling question being why won’t Sarah defend herself? Edmund is fearful that if he can’t get her to talk she will hang for a crime she has not committed. But this talented debut author doesn’t just follow that question around bends, there are other side-plots to explore with a whole cast of characters that may be not all they first appear to be. Put simply, this is a book which has undertone of dark and disturbing matters, some of which have stayed hidden for quite some time. It is these undertones which add the real feeling of layering to the story this is far from a bit of imagination being added to the real story of The Edgeware Road Murders, with a complex tale that the author has spiced up with additional characters and these are delivered with a real emotional context given to their actions. With these multiple layers so pleasingly presented I was completely immersed in the tale as it unfolded; I could imagine Sarah sat in her small cell, the lawyer beside her coaxing a defence from her tight lips and despite her reluctance we learn a little bit more and this kept me turning those pages until the fitting finale.
If you haven’t already guessed, I loved this book, there was nothing that felt the tiniest bit out of place and the author subtlety manipulates the reader’s emotions by the drip-feed of bits of information. I also rarely mention titles in my reviews but this is a good one in part it relates to Hannah Brown who had an eye removed in the course of the murder but it also applies to other characters too which pleases my love of continuity between a title and a novel. This really is an exceptional debut, and I’m looking forward to finding out what else this talented author will produce for my enjoyment.
I was exceptionally grateful to be provided this book by the publisher Tinder Press and this honest review is my thanks to them.