Reviews, Scottish Reads

Hear No Evil

In the burgeoning industrial city of Glasgow in 1817 Jean Campbell – a young, Deaf woman – is witnessed throwing a child into the River Clyde from the Old Bridge.

No evidence is yielded from the river. Unable to communicate with their silent prisoner, the authorities move Jean to the decaying Edinburgh Tolbooth in order to prise the story from her. The High Court calls in Robert Kinniburgh, a talented teacher from the Deaf & Dumb Institution, in the hope that he will interpret for them and determine if Jean is fit for trial. If found guilty she faces one of two fates; death by hanging or incarceration in an insane asylum.

Through a process of trial and error, Robert and Jean manage to find a rudimentary way of communicating with each other. As Robert gains her trust, Jean confides in him, and Robert begins to uncover the truth, moving uneasily from interpreter to investigator, determined to clear her name before it is too late.

Based on a landmark case in Scottish legal history Hear No Evil is a richly atmospheric exploration of nineteenth-century Edinburgh and Glasgow at a time when progress was only on the horizon. A time that for some who were silenced could mean paying the greatest price.

This was a work of historical fiction based on a real case. After reading this book, I wanted to find out more about Jean but there really wasn’t a lot to find. So I really liked that the author had sort of given Jean their story even though I knew that only the bare bones of the story were true.

I found Jean to be such a brave character. She was a poor woman in the early 19th century who had fallen in love with a catholic man. One of these factors alone would have been enough to have made her life more difficult but she was also deaf and didn’t communicate verbally. So her life was extremely tough. Even when facing the gallows or the asylum, her bravery remained.

I felt so sympathetic towards Jean. She needed to tell her story of what happened but was scared but also struggling to get the words across.

Robert was as kind and patient a character as could be expected based on the time period. He was extremely prejudiced against Jean (who lived with a man she wasn’t married to), while I knew that was of the time, it annoyed me as I wanted more from Robert. I liked that he was very passionate about teaching people sign language and spent a lot of time explaining that deafness did not impact intelligence.

hen my sister lost her hearing, I saw how difficult it could be for her to communicate at times. How frustrated she would get. So this book really did break my wee heart.

Some of the parts of this book that annoyed me were more a credit to the author for conveying the attitudes of the time towards women and poor people. It was so infuriating to feel like the baddie could get away with it just because of their position in life.

I felt that this book really embodied the atmosphere of the early 19th century. The poverty, the misery, the acceptance that things may never get better. This was a very somewhat depressing book but I really did enjoy it.

1 thought on “Hear No Evil”

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