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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint-hearted, 30 April 2010
This review is from: The Great Stink (Hardcover)
William May returns to England after having served in the Crimea and starts to work as a surveyor for the Metropolitan Board of Works, charged with the construction of a modern sewer system for London. Haunted by his own demons, he retreats to the underground tunnels where he feels safe and commits terrible acts of self-harm. Declared insane and framed for murder, it falls to a young, inexperienced lawyer to exonerate him.

From the first page the reader is thrown headlong into the secret world of the sewers of London with descriptions that bring the nauseating, claustrophobic conditions alive. Also within the first chapter, we are exposed to William's secret of deliberately cutting himself to extinguish the memories of the war and the appalling conditions in the field hospital in Scutari. Personally, I found these passages quite harrowing to read but they set the scene for the rest of the novel and if you can stomach the often graphic descriptions of the filth, squalor and gore both below and above ground, you will be rewarded with a novel that will open your eyes to the terrible living conditions during that time of Victorian England and you will never read another historical novel again without remembering the vision, ingenuity and determination of Joseph Bazalgette.

Meticulously researched and with wonderfully descriptive, evocative prose, Clare Clark's debut novel is astonishingly assured and its characters entirely believable and real, even though I found the appearance of the lawyer resembling a little bit too much a caricature straight out of Dickens. Don't expect this to be a historical murder mystery novel like I did when I picked it up; the first time you learn that there has even been a murder is on page 168, almost halfway through the novel, and it was not difficult to guess the identity of the murderer; I think the synopsis on the front cover is slightly misleading because I don't think that Clare Clark had intended to write that sort of book. In my opinion the novel is too bogged down with detail in places and would have benefited from some judicious editing but it was certainly time well spent, a valuable history lesson and I'm sure you will agree that you'll never read another novel like this again.
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4.1 out of 5 stars (36 customer reviews)
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