What a fabulous, gripping read this stunning debut novel is. I SO enjoyed it, it is one of those unputdownable page turners which lulls you into thinking it’s merely a competent and enjoyable story, when really its grasping hold of your windpipe ready to squeeze it tightly and leave you breathless and buffeted.
It’s ingeniously woven around a true crime committed in the first half of the nineteenth century in London. Yet the author has shrewdly delved deeply behind the sensational headlines of the day – with themes on the lines of …. “Womans body brutally chopped to pieces” “Murderer carries murder victims severed head through London” and fleshed out the main characters involved, taking us inside the depths of Newgate prison to meet Sarah Gale, a single Mother, who isn’t saying much about her participation in, or knowledge of, the murder of her ex-boyfriends other woman Hannah Brown on the evening before she was due to marry.
Sentenced to death, convicted of playing an active part, along with her lover the sometimes violent James Greenacre, in the gruesome murder of Hannah Brown; Sarah has all but given up hope of redemption when fledgling lawyer Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to re-investigate Sarah’s part in the crime and determine whether she is less or perhaps more guilty than charged and see if an appeal against the death sentence might be an option. But Sarah seems reluctant to speak out on her own behalf, even to save her own life. It’s clear she is hiding something but is it guilt, fear or some other secret making her so reluctant to speak out?
Devoted to her young son she is a complex character I soon grew to like, and was rooting for her, yet was never completely sure whether or not to completely trust her. One minute I was thinking - She must have been involved, she couldn’t have not known exactly what played out the night Hannah died, the next moment I’m thinking - but she couldn’t possibly have known, she’s far too nice, a caring Mother a loving sister, then I do an about face and think OMG, did she actually do it herself? No, surely she’s innocent? And this goes on right through the book! We follow Edmund as he begins his investigation as he soon becomes wrapped up in Sarahs story, meets her sister and tries to piece together the gaps in this heinous crime so we get to know him, his overbearing father, his impatient wife his guileless nature, is he too trusting perhaps?
The author paints a vivid picture of life in Newgate prison and London itself and there are several twists in the tale which kept me guessing, right until the final pages.
It’s a seductive story, grim and gory certainly, brutal in places but with a charisma and charm which captivated me and left me quite desperate for a follow up. I’m longing to know what happens afterwards to some of the surviving characters.
For historical mystery lovers and enthusiasts of clever twisty fiction this is an absolute “must read” outstanding debut novel I am certain will be a huge success.
My gratitude goes to the publisher Tinder Press for allowing me early access to this title in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion and to Ella Bowman (publicist) for permitting me to share my thoughts now, because I am bursting to tell everyone to add this to their “to be read” list, even though it isn’t released until July - on the 14th to be precise (which just happens to be my birthday, a big one – cake and chocolate also accepted for review purposes?? ….. Oh well, worth a try I suppose)
It is 1837 and the city streets teem with life, atmosphere and the stench of London. Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, has been sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding.
Edmund Fleetwood, an idealistic lawyer, is appointed to investigate Sarah's petition for mercy and consider whether justice has been done. Struggling with his own demons, he is determined to seek out the truth, yet Sarah refuses to help him. Edmund knows she's hiding something, but needs to discover just why she's maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone with a child would go willingly to their own death?