The Great Stink by Clare Clark

Clare Clark's The Great Stink brings to life the literal dank and dismal underbelly of Victorian London.

During the summer of 1858 a heat wave gripped London. The water level in the Thames sank from the accompanying drought. Raw sewage flowed into the Thames, spilled over the banks, and caused a stench that filled the city. The powerful machinery of the House of Commons ground to a halt as a hot, fetid miasma enveloped the chambers. Curtains soaked in a solution of chloride of lime did nothing to block the foul air. The Great Stink had arrived.

An outbreak of cholera rapidly followed. Members of Parliament, sick and dizzy from the heat and smell, finally passed legislation to fund a new sanitary sewage system for the city of London. The newly formed Metropolitan Board of Works got busy. Engineers and surveyors were hired. Massive contracts for bricks and supplies and construction were awarded. The potential for profits - and corruption - was enormous.

William May was hired as an engineer by the MBW. Recently returned from the Crimean War and suffering from shell shock (what is known today as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD), May finds a grim and ugly solace deep in the sewers he has been hired to plumb.

Toshers and self-described "sewer rats" made their living scavenging for valuables that washed into the sewers and lodged in the cramped and dripping underground corridors. Long Arm Tom is a tosher earning a meager living from the sewers, and from wagers made in noxious ale houses for (and against) his small but powerful rat-killing dog named Lady.

Long Arm Tom and William May eventually, inevitably, cross paths in the dark and dripping underground sewers where they are witnesses - or perhaps perpetrators - of a gruesome murder.

Clare Clark's novel takes you deep into the subterranean labyrinth of Victorian London's sewers. William May was damaged by the horrors he experienced in the Crimea, but was he capable of murder? Was Long Arm Tom merely in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did he goad William May into an act of shocking depravity or was he a partner to the crime? Explore the book's Web site for more, and then check it out of the library.