An opposite approach animates the tale of Jean-Baptiste Baratte, which starts and ends in a Versailles anteroom whose decadence says everything about the years just before the Revolution. The young engineer is to purify the Paris neighborhood of Les Halles by removing a festering, packed cemetery, Les Innocents. A disciple of the new rationalism, he takes on the horrid task, even as irrationality begins to bubble up. Miller trains his spotlight on one small quartier and its inhabitants, literally poisoned by the rot that seeps from the earth. Yet every page of the novel alludes subtly to the official rot that will soon be exposed at the Bastille. It's that rare novel that captures a period with the delicacy of an insect trapped in amber, yet reads like a thriller.