Snuff, Terry Pratchett
I managed to catch one of those miserable colds that are going around, which left me with no energy or brain cells for reading (that's how I know when I'm really sick: I can't read). I spent an awful lot of time watching TV, though now I can't even remember what was on - and not just because I kept falling asleep. When I finally started to emerge from the brain fog and could concentrate again, I decided a visit to Terry Pratchett's Discworld was just what I needed. He has a new book coming out later this year, and I've had this one on the TBR shelves for too long.
If you're not familiar with Pratchett's books, he is probably best-known for the Discworld series, which are set on a world with a lot of
parallels to our own, except that in addition to humans it includes dwarfs, trolls, vampires, werewolves, golems, witches and wizards, and a few talking animals. Pratchett uses the parallels and the divergences between our world and the Disc to great satirical and
comedic effect. The Discworld books can be read as stand-alones, but they draw on and then add to a detailed, complex backstory, full of in-jokes and references to past events. Snuff is part of the subseries of stories focused on Sam Vimes and
the Watch, the police force in the great city of Ankh-Morpork. The Watchmen (and women, these days, not to mention dwarfs, trolls, vampires, and werewolves) make an appearance in most of the books, but sometimes only as cameos. The Watch stories were my introduction to Ankh-Morpork and really to the series, and they've always been a favorite.
In this book, Sam Vimes reluctantly leaves the city behind for a holiday with his wife and son on the family's country estate. Once a street kid in Ankh-Morpork's slums and later the alcoholic captain of the despised Night Watch, Vimes has made over the police force and himself, rising to become Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh-Morpork and (most importantly to him) Commander of the Watch. He met Lady Sybil, the last heiress of the noble Ramkin family, in the course of an investigation, and two lost souls found each other. Vimes has never quite adjusted to being a Duke, though. At heart he remains Sam Vimes, the city Watchman. He is the proverbial fish out of water in the country, both as a city man and as the lord of the manor. But then his Watchman's eye tells him that there is something wrong, possibly criminal, going on in the local village. Being Vimes, he can't help poking around and asking questions, any more than he can help upsetting people in the process. He has a run-in with the local blacksmith, who then goes missing, and Vimes finds himself accused of his murder. But the real victim is a young goblin girl. Goblins are a despised minority, whom many consider animals rather than a sentient species. Vimes's insistence that the girl's death was murder and she deserves justice will draw him into the goblin world and into a dangerous investigation that reaches far beyond the quiet village.
Pratchett's books are great fun and often laugh-out-loud funny, but he usually has a serious point to make. Here he is addressing prejudice and discrimination, as well as the question of how much an outside group has to change or adapt to be accepted in the dominant society (a question of particular interest to Captain Angua, the Watch's sole werewolf). Goblins are not attractive: their language is difficult to learn, they are scavengers, they live in caves, they smell bad. For some on the Disc, that justifies enslaving or even killing them. Vimes and Sybil set out to change that, starting with the search for the killer.
I enjoyed this book, with its familiar characters in a different setting. Though the Ramkin estate is miles from Ankh-Morpork, the investigation eventually draws in the City Watch as well, bringing in old friends from the earlier books. (It does not however feature DEATH himself, a very popular character with his own marvelous subseries of stories.) Sometimes, particularly in the later books, it feels to me like the message rather overwhelms the story, as with the previous Disc book, Unseen Academicals. Here I thought the balance was perfect. I enjoyed Vimes's investigation, which includes a wild ride on a riverboat caught in a flood tide. There is also the more peaceful chapter, earlier in the book, where Sam and Sybil are paying calls in the neighborhood. One visit is to the widowed Lady Gordon and her five unmarried daughters, one named Jane, who is writing "a novel about the complexities of personal relationships, with all their hopes and dreams and misunderstandings." She doesn't actually say it's called "First Impressions," but then she hardly needs to.
Now I'm looking forward even more to the new book, Raising Steam, which will take us back to Ankh-Morpork. It features another favorite character, the reformed (or recovering) con man, Moist von Lipwig.
This book is the third I've read for the Peril the First, with the R.I.P. VIII challenge.