The stink of the Innocents is permeating the soil, the water, and the air of Paris. The rotting remains of the overstuffed cemetery of les Innocents are leaching into the food and even the very skin and breath of the living inhabitants of the surrounding city. The vast yard of bones and soupy remains is eroding into their cellars. So the King's minister has hired on an engineer from Normandy to put together a crew that will dig up and relocate the corpses to the Catacombs, then destroy the cemetery and the church.
This is a sumptuous and evocative story of late 18th century Paris. It is as if Andrew Miller himself just came back from 1785 and is eagerly regaling us with all that he saw. We are jostled by the crowds in the streets and the rough labourers in the cemetery, we smell the fetid air, we feel the grit beneath our feet and between our fingers, we peer into the dim candle-lit shadows of hovels, church recesses, and charnel houses.
Eeeeww factoid: Scientific American provided a fascinating article on the history of this cemetery. The cemetery was so crowded that not enough oxygen was available for decomposition, so mounds of fat resulted. This human fat was turned into soaps and candles.