Sunday, October 20, 2013

Murder in the country

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.


  1. I'm so sorry you've been sick. I know what you mean knowing you're really sick when you can't read. I find that old episodes of TV shows I love are the way to cope. That way, it doesn't even matter if I fall asleep because I know what's going to happen.

    As for Terry Pratchett, I've had him on my list for years, but he's so prolific that I have no idea where to start, especially when there's no way I can add another long series to my reading--at least not until I finish Campion and Aubrey/Maturin.

  2. I'm glad you're feeling better! Terry Pratchett is the perfect author to read when you're recovering from something. I think that the Watch novels are my favorites of his, and Snuff was so good; I especially liked that we got a chance to see more of the relationship between Vimes and his butler Willikins, who is a great character.

  3. Teresa, I remember your vicious cold really lingered! I have a shelf overflowing with Pratchett's books, which are addictive reading, so I can understand putting them off for a while.

    elizabeth, reading this did make me want to go back to Guards, Guards and Men at Arms. It's so hard to pick *A* favorite, with Tiffany and Moist, not to mention DEATH & Susan.

  4. So sorry to hear you were sick - you know it's bad when you're watching television instead of reading! Glad to hear Terry Pratchett aided your recovery :)

  5. Sorry You've not been well. When I have a spell when I can't read I listen to audio books - preferably ones I've already read so that it doesn't matter if I doze off in the middle, I can always pick it up again when I wake up.

    I think I've made a mistake with the Discworld Books by insisting on starting at the beginning. I don't think the early novels are as good as some of the later ones from what I've heard and so I've never really got into the series. Perhaps I should try some of the more recent volumes and see if I get on any better.

  6. Oh, I forgot about Tiffany! I may have to revise my "favorites" -- but I still think Night Watch is pretty much perfect.

  7. JoAnn, I felt a real dislocation with so much TV and so little reading! Something was definitely missing.

    Alex, I have real trouble focusing on recorded books at the best of times. I often need subtitles watching TV (it's not a hearing problem). I have not read Pratchett's first books myself, because I've heard they are not as good and don't fit with the stories of the later books.

    elizabeth, Night Watch is excellent. So is The Truth, to my mind. If I had to choose one for the proverbial desert island, though, I think it would be Going Postal. I think.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!