Snuff, Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel is an absolute treat, as per usual. It’s a Sam Vimes book (there are many recurring characters in the Discworld series, whose life stories intermingle, braid and diverge — Sam Vimes is an ex-alcoholic police chief who has married into nobility) and that means that it’s going to be a story about class, about law, and about justice, and the fact that Pratchett can make a serious discourse on these subjects both funny and gripping and never trivial is as neat a summary of why we love him as much as we do.
In Snuff, Sam Vimes finds himself dragged off to the countryside for a first-in-his-life holiday, and of course, the holiday only lasts about ten seconds before Vimes is embroiled in local politics, which means local crime. The genteel countryside may be sleepy and backwards, but it is also seething with secrets, with privilege for the gentry, with class resentments, and with racism.
Goblins, you see, are universally reviled, thought incapable of rationality, and loathed for their weird religious habit of retaining all their snot, hair clippings, pus, fingernails and other castoffs (except urine, crap and teeth, strangely) in beautiful handmade pots that are buried with them. Also, they’ve been known to eat their young. Is it any wonder that they’re classed as vermin in law?
Well, yes, because as Sam Vimes discovers, there’s more to the story than the stuff “everyone knows” about goblins, and before you know it, he’s deep underground in a story that includes all the aforementioned, plus a small boy obsessed with learning everything there is to know about poo; a novelist who writes wildly popular icky novels for kids; a clan of corrupt magistrates who make up the law as it suits them; and a clutch of sweet maidens who need to be convinced to leave the drawing room and make their way in the wider world.
And we’re off — fights, chases, riverboats, sea-ships, kidnapping, murder, revenge, and the world belowstairs and above all come to life in a Pratchett novel that has all the things you want from Discworld: compassion, humor, smarts, and action. Thank you, Terry, for another good literary friend to join the rest on my shelf.