Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review: Snuff (2011)

Snuff follows Sam Vimes, Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, as he attempts to enjoy a peaceful vacation in his country estate with his family. The lands belong to him courtesy of his wife, Lady Sybil Ramkin, she of the spectacular bosom and other body parts of planetary proportions. However, seasoned readers will immediately know that Vimes' vacation will be anything but quiet, since a central tenet of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series has to do with crime finding policemen, and vice versa. There's also the fact that the reasonable tyrant Lord Vetinari sends Vimes off into the countryside. Vetinari is always out to "fix" something, and Vimes is usually his unwitting hammer of choice.

What follows: tension between "noble" and "common" men; a discussion about goblins as vermin; surprising discoveries in the darkness; philosophical musings about the nature of the law; and of course, a variety of interesting minor characters. Pratchett introduces unique humorous tics in every novel, and in Snuff, we have the sea vessels hilariously named after women. For example, Black-Eyed Susan is apparently almost as fast as her namesake, and The Wonderful Fanny always finds her way to safety in the most treacherous waters. There's also Young Sam's keen fascination with poo, spurred by a popular children's book author whose name sounds like a shout-out to the last Harry Potter book.

I understand that Mr. Pratchett suffers from early-onset Alzheimer's disease, so I was pleased to pick up his 39th Discworld book. I'm delighted to report that Snuff has all the trademark Pratchett turns of phrases, the ones that make me do involuntary ab crunches from guffawing. The story plays out like a combination of JingoThe Fifth Elephant, and Thud!, meaning Discworld fans have seen a lot of the main themes before. Those themes include Racism Sucks, the Law is the Law, Innocence versus Cynicism, Slavery is Bad, Coppers are Awesome, and Some Nobles Think They're All That. This is also probably the densest novel I've read in the series. You know that quote by Blaise Pascal, usually attributed to Mark Twain--"I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time"? Reading this book kind of felt like that. There could have been more editing on Vimes' inner thoughts and his incredibly long speeches to the bad guys.

Anyway, I was gratified to see that my girl Delphine Angua von Uberwald has been promoted to Captain! Now she is totally equal with her man, Captain Carrot, and he's royalty and she's a werewolf noble and they will make adorable puppies together. Or whatever hybrids result from that hopefully inevitable union.

Of course, all City Watch novels come with our favorite slacker pair, Nobbs and Colon. Wee Mad Arthur and Cheery Littlebottom also show up. But the best secondary character award has to go to Willikins, Vimes' butler, who can reduce a man to tears by threatening to comb his hair. Sweet.

Let me end with a weird joke based on the book: How do you know when a chicken is complicated? When it lays square eggs.