Under Ground plunges you into the filth of Victorian London, frequently right into its filthy, disgusting open and underground sewers. To say it’s ‘immersive’ is an understatement. You can practically feel the stuff clinging to your shoes and smell it as it assails your nostrils. It is gross — and engrossing.
Under Ground is about filth, both literal and figurative, both apparent and hidden. About the London slums and the wretched people who have to live there, but also the landlords who poison them and grow rich on the profits. It’s about secrets, lies and murder – and cholera – with parallel investigations being carried out by our two protagonists, Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain. One into the murder of rich man’s son in a brothel, the other into the sewer system itself.
The novel includes a range of vivid characters, many of whom have there own secrets and are hiding their true identity. The sheer number of people involved in the story who share a similar secret identity (trying to avoid spoilers here) stretches the bounds of credibility; some of it feels unnecessary. However, as this is the sixth novel in a series, I can only guess that there’s a reason and that some of the minor characters have a bigger role in other books in the series. That said, this novel totally works as a standalone. At no point did I feel lost for not having read the previous installments.
Under Ground reminds me of another excellent novel about the London sewers, The Great Stink by Clare Clark (2006). Both are well worth reading, and an excellent (easy) way to learn more about the London sewer system before the improvements made by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. In the almost 20 years since I read The Great Stink, I have never forgotten it. I was delighted to find myself back in that gruesome world thanks to this new novel! I will definitely be buying E. S. Thomson’s earlier books.
5* – Highly recommended
Thanks to the author, publisher and Netgalley for the ARC. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.
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