Summary and book reviews of The Great Stink by Clare Clark

The Great Stink

by Clare Clark

The Great Stink by Clare Clark X
The Great Stink by Clare Clark
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2005, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2006, 372 pages

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Book Summary

With extraordinarily vivid characters and unflinching prose The Great Stink marks the debut of an outstandingly talented writer in the tradition of the best historical novelists.

It is 1855, and engineer William May has returned home to his beloved wife from the battlefields of the Crimea. He secures a job transforming London's sewer system and begins to lay his ghosts to rest. Above ground, his work is increasingly compromised by corruption, and cholera epidemics threaten the city. But it is only when the peace of the tunnels is shattered by murder that William loses his tenuous hold on sanity. Implicated in the crime, plagued by visions and nightmares, even he is not sure of his innocence. Long Arm Tom, who scavenges for valuables in the subterranean world of the sewers and cares for nothing and no one but his dog, Lady, is William's only hope of salvation. Will he bring the truth to light?

With extraordinarily vivid characters and unflinching prose that recall Year of Wonders and The Dress Lodger, The Great Stink marks the debut of an outstandingly talented writer in the tradition of the best historical novelists.

Chapter 1

Where the channel snaked to the right it was no longer possible to stand upright, despite the abrupt drop in the gradient. The crown of William's hat grazed the slimed roof as he stooped, holding his lantern before him, and the stink of excrement pressed into his nostrils. His hand was unsteady and the light shuddered and jumped in the darkness. Rising and rushing through the narrower gully, the stream pressed the greased leather of his high boots hard against the flesh of his calves, the surge of the water muffling the clatter of hooves and iron-edged wheels above him. Of course he was deeper now. Between him and the granite-block road was at least twenty feet of heavy London clay. The weight of it deepened the darkness. Beneath his feet the rotten bricks were treacherous, soft as crumbled cheese, and with each step the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
A tale of murder and deceit set in Europe's most legendary city, The Great Stink takes readers inside a little-known chapter of Victorian history. Beneath the streets of London, where sewers sprawl for miles and infested tunnels stoke raging epidemics, engineer William May goes to work. He is part of a team charged with shoring up this subterranean realm and, as his wife often reminds him, though the assignment is grueling it is nonetheless a plum job.

William is no stranger to horrific scenes; he is still haunted by memories of recent combat on the front lines of the Crimean War. His new work brings unexpected peace to his troubled mind. But once he uncovers a dangerous web of government corruption, perpetrated by ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This is a gripping, richly atmospheric and exceptionally well researched first novel that delivers a fast paced, credible story-line against the background of one of the great feats of British architecture - the building of the London sewer system (made all the more challenging because much of London is 30 feet below the River Thames at high tide, making drainage by gravity alone impossible).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review (134 words).

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Media Reviews

The Washington Post - Ron Charles
With its intense olfactory workout, The Great Stink won't be to everyone's taste, but it's a rich work of history and a gripping exploration of the unmentionable currents that run beneath the surface of our lives -- and it reeks of talent.

The New York Times - Susann Cokal
Clark's triumph is that she makes us see and smell everything we politely pretend not to......At moments of such lyrical brilliance and sensory precision, the book is literally breathtaking.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Kirkus Reviews
Clark's plot would indeed be her novel's undoing were it not for the genuine skill with which she rubs our noses in its ghastly ambiance, and for the wonderful Long Arm Tom, who might have enjoyed quaffing ale and swapping horror stories with Dickens's immortal Bill Sykes. Significantly flawed, but very much worth reading.

Library Journal - Barbara Love
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.

Booklist - Margaret Flanagan
Clark's meticulous research provides a firm foundation for this fascinating fictional foray into one of the most monumental construction and engineering projects of the fledgling industrial age.

Author Blurb Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
Clare Clark writes with the eyes of a historian and the soul of a novelist.

Reader Reviews

Derek Easterby

The Great Stink
A bit hard to get into, but once in, it was even more difficult to get out and put it down. A very interesting look into the deeper parts of Victorian London, the great stinking sewers and from here to the traumatic Crimea War. It is a wonder that ...   Read More

Paul Doyle

Wonderfully Surprised
I chanced upon this book in my local library where I typically take out two to three books per week mostly non-fiction and historical fiction.I found this book to rank close to the top of all the historical fiction I have read over the years.The ...   Read More

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The Crimean War (1854-1856) was fought between Russia and an alliance of countries including Britain. It is considered to be the first "modern" war, and was marked by an extraordinary level of incompetence, at least from the British point of view. The low point of the war was probably the notorious Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized by Alfred Tennyson. One good thing did result from the Charge of the Light Brigade - it put an end to the sale of military commissions: The officer who ordered the charge was Lord Cardigan (the eponymous wearer of that useful button down garment that carries his name) who had paid £40,000 to rise from the rank of an incoming officer to Lieutenant-Colonel in just 6 years. Another good...

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