I’ve really come to like writing these reviews, getting into it and meandering verbosely through a book (whether many people manage to wade through my prolixity is another matter). However, this means that I tend to put off writing them till I’m in the right frame of mind and have enough time, and now the year is well more than half over and I’m very behind, so I’m going to try and do some very quick ones. Exposition, highlighting of a main theme, evaluation, quote, boom. Let’s see how that works out.
Terry Pratchett’s Snuff returns us to the inimitable Sam Vimes, reluctant Duke, loving husband, adoring father and experienced – perhaps too experienced for his own comfort – policeman. Forced to go on holiday by the subtly joined forces of his wife Lady Sybil and benevolent (or pragmatic) tyrant Vetinari (who have quite different motivations), Vimes nevertheless manages to find crime and oppression and wades into its midst, determined to stamp it out despite the fact that his trusty boots are far from his familiar streets. There is smuggling, murder, a secret world of goblins hidden in a hill, and the rural charms of beetroot ale and games of crockett.
It seems to me that as Pratchett gets older, Vimes’s pure blazing fury that blasts through shades of grey and lights the darkness in people’s hearts and deeds burns brighter, although it casts shadows of its own. Vimes will not see innocent (or rather no worse than human) beings trodden down and exploited; he will not allow anyone, regardless of class or wealth, get away with more than he can possibly help. This will sometimes comes into conflict with Vetinari, with the rest of the world, but here Vimes’s family provides much-needed comfort to him (and us?) amid the bleakness of his (and our) world, while the battle of interests provides great food for thought on morality and ethics and how not to treat sentient beings like things.
There are a couple of flaws in Snuff, to my mind; a subplot connecting the Ankh-Morpork force to events in the country and abroad could have perhaps been cut, and a family of daintily-dressed sisters on the marriage market could have cropped up more often after their introduction (like the Chekovian orchard ladies in The Fifth Elephant) – I was disappointed when they disappeared. The great talent possessed by the oppressed beings is awfully convenient, but then again I think his point was the importance of looking beneath the exterior. Overall, however, Snuff is a gripping read; there are plots and chases and plenty of room for Vimes’s trademark speeches while accosting evildoers. There is lots of humour as well, bouncing in a typically Pratchettesque (Pratchettian?) fashion from arch literary references to mocking manners and mores to slapstick and wordplay to the frankly scatological – Young Sam takes great delight in exploring the world of poo. I very much enjoyed Snuff, continue to adore Vimes, and find the development of Vimes the Family Man an increasingly appealing layer in the novels set among the police force. I would not, perhaps, recommend Snuff as the starting place for discovering Pratchett, but it’s a great continuation of the wonder that is Discworld.
“Sam Vimes knew that the best thing he could say was nothing, and he sank back into the depths, thinking words like fiddler, sharp dealer, inserter of a crafty crowbar between what is right and wrong, and mine and thine, wide boy, financier, and untouchable…
Gently drifting into a world where the good guys and the bad guys so often changed hats without warning, Vimes wrestled sleeplessness to the ground and made certain that it got eight hours.” (219)
Pratchett, Terry. Snuff. London: Transworld (Corgi), 2011.