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The Great Stink


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About the Author

Clare Clark was born in London in 1967. A Senior Scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, she graduated with a Double First in History. The Great Stink is her first novel. She is married with two children and lives in London.


Clarke's debut brings together two men in the dankly atmospheric tunnels of Victorian London. Recently returned from the Crimean front and suffering what would now be known as posttraumatic stress disorder, William May is newly employed as a surveyor on Joseph Bazalgette's great underground sewer project. Long Arm Tom, on the other hand, is a rougher sort who makes his living as a scavenger and rat catcher. As William grows increasingly manic, he neglects his home and family, finding his only comfort in work and the opportunity it provides him to descend into the tunnels and relieve a burning desire to cut his skin. One trip down leads him to witness a murder, which he eventually links to a profiteering scheme in awarding sewer contracts. Framed for the killing, he winds up first in a mental asylum and, later, in prison. His only hope of acquittal is an inexperienced lawyer and Long Arm Tom. If librarians can persuade readers to ignore the malodorous title and the even more unfortunate subject heading (sewerage-fiction), they may strongly recommend this confidently written page-turner.-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Kingston, Ont. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Dickens fans should devour British author Clark's debut novel, a gripping and richly atmospheric glimpse into the literal underworld of Victorian England-the labyrinthine London sewer system. When the "great stink" of the title-the product of an oppressive heat wave combined with putrid sewage overflow-threatens to shut down the British capital in 1855, the politicians agree to fund massive repairs. That immense public works project is a natural magnet for the corrupt, and engineer William May, a psychologically scarred Crimean War veteran, soon finds his ethics challenged. When he courageously decides not to rubber-stamp the use of inferior brick, he puts his life, his sanity and his family at risk. May's vague recollection of a murder he may have witnessed in the depths of the sewer system results in his becoming the prime suspect and being incarcerated in an asylum. That the mystery's eventual resolution depends a bit too much on a deus ex machina in no way detracts from Clark's considerable achievement in bringing her chosen slice of Victoriana to life. She shows every evidence of being a gifted and sensitive writer in the same league as such historical novelists as Charles Palliser. Agent, Clare Alexander (U.K.). (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

PRAISE FOR"THE GREAT STINK""Clark's triumph is that she makes us see and smell everything we politely pretend not to, and she even manages to give the miasma its own kind of beauty . . . The book is literally breathtaking."--"The New York Times Book Review"""The Great Stink"is a trove of olfactory poetry . . . a crackerjack historical novel that combines the creepy intrigue of Caleb Carr, the sensory overload of Peter Ackroyd and the academic curiosity of A. S. Byatt."--"Los Angeles Times"

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