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William May is a veteran of the terrors of the Crimean War. The year is 1855, modern readers will have no difficulty recognizing the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder—poor William is fragile, damaged, and unable to relate to his former life. He finds some measure of solace underground as a surveyor for a massive engineering project to revamp London’s outdated, unstable, and very stinky sewer system. Also patrolling the sewers is Long Arm Tom, a “tosher” who searches for valuables and catches rats for dogfight bait. Then William witnesses a brutal murder in the tunnels and, due to his slipping hold on reality, is fingered as the culprit and locked away. While William languishes in prison, it’s up to Long Arm Tom to prowl the dark underground in search of the truth. Though the ending may come a trifle too neatly for some readers, most will be swept away by author Clare Clark’s attention to historical detail. Victorian London is richly evoked in all its triumphs and tragedies, from the engineering feats that created London’s sewers to the horrors of the Crimean War to the harsh differences between the lives of the city’s social classes. The Great Stink is a fine mystery and an even finer portrait of a unique historical time and place.
posted Nov 23, 2010 at 7:49PM
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