A dark, addictive historical crime novel, inspired by the true story of the penultimate woman to be hanged in Britain
London, 1954. Accused of brutally murdering her daughter-in-law, Greek Cypriot grandmother, Zina Pavlou, sits in a police cell in Hampstead and awaits her fate. She speaks no English and can read and write no Greek.
A few miles away, after her shift at the glamorous Café de Paris, Eva Georgiou is roused in the early hours and summoned to her second job – as a translator for the Metropolitan Police. She’s appointed Zina’s official translator.
The proof against Zina is overwhelming, but Eva’s concern grows when she witnesses the woman’s erratic behaviour, and begins to wonder if she was in her right mind at the time of the murder. And if she should be facing a trial at the Old Bailey at all. Then Zina drops a bombshell – she’s been accused of murder once before, years ago in Cyprus.
The Unspeakable Acts of Zina Pavlou is a historical crime fiction novel, written by Eleni Kyriacou, inspired by the story of the penultimate woman hanged in the United Kingdom. A novel that is a perfect example of how to write characters that will stay with you a long time after you have finished, in a setting that describes perfectly 1950s London and the prejudices experienced by immigrants and women.
Hedy Pavlou has been assassinated, and her mother-in-law, Zina, is charged with her murder; she protests her innocence, but with her rudimentary English, she's effectively silenced, feeling powerless in a situation than is outside of her control. Eva Georgiou is assigned as her translator, a job that for her is just an extra income; but the more she works with Zina, the more she's drawn close to her, seeing how she's abandoned by her family (the one in London or in Cyprus).
Parallel with the case development, we are told Zina's story and how her moving to living in London with her son Michaelis was far from what she expected, soon clashing with Hedy's manners and traditions; a relationship told from the POV of Zina, and which takes you to the level of asking yourself what really happened with Hedy.
Kyriacou weaves a gripping story, told from Eva's POV on one side, a story of loneliness which can be set in parallel to what Zina's lived when she came to London; Eva is extremely worried as Zina doesn't seem to be mentally okay, and might not understand the consequence of being found guilty.
We will be constantly revisiting the question about what if Zina is a murderer, or is just a victim of the prejudices suffered by many others in her situation? But the answer is not as simple as black or white, and the many shades of grey are what make of her a character that will stay with you for a long time; Kyriacou has written a story that makes all the way to your heart.
If you are in the mood for historical inspired crime, The Unspeakable Acts of Zina Pavlou is an excellent novel that you should totally give a try. A really enjoyable read which will provoke you to think a lot about the characters even after finishing.
Eleni Kyriacou is an award-winning editor and journalist. Her writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Observer, Grazia, and Red, among others. She’s the daughter of Greek Cypriot immigrant parents, and her debut novel, She Came To Stay, was published in 2020. Her latest novel, The Unspeakable Acts of Zina Pavlou, is inspired by the true-crime story of the penultimate woman to be executed in Britain. Follow her on @EleniKWriter and www.elenikwriter.com.