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The Great Stink

A book by Clare Clark

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A tale of murder and madness

  • Oct 18, 2006
  • by
It must be difficult for an author to write an interesting book whose basic plot revolves around the sewers of London in the mid 19th century. This book, however, shows what can be accomplished with very good writing and interesting characters. There's a sordid tale of murder, madness, bribery, and other assorted evils in this book, all handled quite well by the author. At the first part of the book it's a bit difficult to understand what's actually happening, but as the tale, and the action, picks up, everything becomes somewhat clearer. The depiction of the sewers is chilling, and the part of the book that deals with how the supposed insane were treated is absolutely horrifying. There were times when the tale seemed to drag a bit, but overall it was a book well worth reading, if only for gaining knowledge as to how London cleaned up the Thames, and removed the "great stink" from its air.

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About the reviewer
Frank J. Konopka ()
Ranked #89
I'm a small town general practice attorney in the hard coal region of Pennsylvania. Books are my passion, andI read as many of them asI can. Being the President of the local library board for over … more
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About this book


It takes a world of confidence to name your debut novelThe Great Stink, and to set it in a sewer. Not even a modern sewer--charmless though that may be--but the crumbling, cholera-laden, rat-infested, fungus-rich sewers of London in the mid-Victorian period, from which pockets of deadly gas frequently burbled to the surface. Clare Clark's unsavory but completely absorbing first novel is a Dantean tour of this reeking underworld and its denizens: both the scavengers--human and animal--and the reformers, who brave the tunnels in the service of public hygiene and social progress after the 1858 Act of Parliament that called for the rebuilding of the sewer system.

The Great Stink juxtaposes two darknesses, both embodied in the filthy tunnels: the lawless desperation of the very poor, and the despair of madness. One of the junior engineers most useful in mapping the existing sewer is William May, a studious, methodical veteran of the Crimean War who manages to conceal from everyone but his wife the horrors he brought out of battle with him. The tunnels don't frighten William; they provide isolation and silence for the bloody rites that keep the Mr. Hyde in him at bay. It seems only a matter of time before William's self-destruction turns outward. Long Arm Tom, his counterpart among the poor, is a "tosher." He enters the tunnels illegally, scraping the sludge for coins or other booty, and trapping hundreds of rats for fighting against dogs at local taverns ...

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ISBN-10: 0156030888
ISBN-13: 978-0156030885
Author: Clare Clark
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Mariner Books
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