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Pure

by Andrew Miller

It's a dirty job - but somebody's got to do it. It's 1785 and Jean-Baptiste is raring to go: his first big project is to clear out the oldest cemetery in Paris. Overflowing burial pits are creating a health hazard and a palpable stink around Les Halles. The young engineer's project is a nifty metaphor for the much more momentous clear-out that'll soon shake France to its core. Not for the squeamish, it's grisly, gripping - et magnifique!

Extract

Even a few weeks, at this rate, and the cemetery would become a labyrinth. They would lose each other in corridors of bone.
The gangs - diggers, collectors, stackers - are rotated at hourly intervals. It is evident that no one must be left more than two hours at the bottom of the pit. Near the end of the afternoon - it has been one of those days when the light struggles to impose itself, to convince - one of the men, coming up the ladder at the end of his shift, pauses, lets go of the rung and tumbles backwards. Fortunately, he does not break his fall on the heads of his fellows. He is raised to the surface in the canvas cradle.
'It is Block,' says Lecoeur, kneeling by the man's side. 'Jan Block.'
In the surface air, Block stirs, looks about himself and, ashen still, gets to his feet.

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