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Snuff, by Terry Pratchett

July 1, 2012

This couldn’t have come out at a better time: Last November while I was directing a college play of Guards! Guards! That it’s taken me until now to read it, I can only put down to me being a terrible excuse for a human being, let alone an ardent fan of the Discworld.


Snuff is the latest (the 39th) book in the extensive Discworld series. The Discworld, a flat land careening through space on the backs of four elephants astride the back of the giant cosmic turtle A’tun. Zooming in for a more microcosmic view, Snuff follows Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch (Also the Duke of Ankh, Hero of Koom Valley and Blackboard Monitor) as he takes a much unwanted holiday with his wife, Lady Sybil, and their young son, Sam. Originally a kid from the streets, and now a ‘big nob’, Vimes is initially unsure how to act and enjoy himself amongst the upper and working classes of the countryside around his estate. However, it is not long before he uncovers a plot of murder, smuggling and conspiracy. After that, the game is afoot.

The book follows Vimes’ efforts to solve the crime, right the wrongs and uphold the law, as well as a fair deal of introspection, as most of Pratchett’s later books seem to, on the limits of the law and jurisdiction, racism and Vimes’ mirrored, criminal nature.

Racism seems to be a favourite theme of Pratchett’s. In the earlier books, it was about or between the dwarves and trolls. Now, twenty years on, it would be stale to retread that racial ground again so instead new races are introduced. Unseen Academicals gave us Mr Nutt, an orc, and now Snuff is populated by a hill of goblins. The small, smelly sub-human people also lend themselves nicely to the themes of slavery and to exactly whom the law applies, the latter segueing well with the character of Sam Vimes.

Speaking of, Vimes is still on fine form as the irascible copper, the immutable embodiment of the law. In this book, he’s a bit older, a bit more tired but shows no sign of stopping just yet. He is also still devoted to his wife and son. I particularly felt that his relationship with Sybil felt more organic in this book. Most of the other characters are painted with Pratchett’s usual quirky style. There are a few exceptions however. The local self-appointed magistrates, despite being portrayed as the leaders of the conspiracy, get little more than one or two scenes early on. From then on, they fail to exist in any real sense in the story. Instead the villain of the story, Stratford, while a worthy adversary for Vimes doesn’t get the page-time he deserves in my opinion.

The crime is the most complex in detective fiction but that is so rarely the point in Pratchett’s work. There are plenty of policeman as smart as Vimes, some possibly smarter, but few possess the sheer pig-headed dertermination that he does. Or his impervious sense of duty.Snuff is a fantastic continuation of the Discworld series, and despite his much-publicised mental health, Pratchett remains on top of his game. Fans of his will have doubtlessly readSnuff before me so don’t need my recommendation. To those new or unaccustomed to Discworld, the already developed characters and relationships may leave you feeling a bit lost so it may be better to start off a little earlier in the series.

Goodness know where though.


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