This is the fictionalised biography of Sarah Gale, accused of being an accomplice to a murder in 1837 London. She is sentenced to hang, and the lawyer Edmund Fleetwood – a fictional character – is appointed to investigate to see if there is a legal reason for clemency. Well-researched, with believable characters, this is a harrowing story. It is set mainly in Newgate, and the awful conditions of the gaol and the injustices perpetrated both inside and outside the prison are described in detail. There is a repetition of themes – abused children, men’s power over women’s lives – which adds to the feeling of despair, as does the harassment of Sarah by another prisoner, for which no motive is given.
Mazzola provides a possible solution to the mystery of how much Sarah knew about the murder – still unknown to this day – but I think it would have been more intriguing to leave it ambiguous and let readers decide for themselves. A more open ending would not have left the reader wondering about motives, both Sarah’s and those of other characters. This novel kept me interested until the end, where there is a hint of the possibility of another novel with Edmund as the detective. If so, I will happily buy it.