Pratchett, Terry. Snuff.

NY: HarperCollins, 2011.

Sam Vines is a city-born-and-bred copper (he’s also Commander Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, Sir Samuel Vines the Duke of Ankh, and Blackboard Monitor Vimes) and he gets a bit panicky when Lady Sybil, his adored wife, insists he get out into the country for a holiday. And their son, Young Sam, is six now and needs to make the acquaintance of the large estate which he will one day inherit. Even Lord Vetinari the Patrician agrees, which leaves Vimes feeling a bit betrayed, but off they go. He’s supposed to leave his job firmly behind, but that’s not something he’s quite capable of. And, as he knows well, any copper can find a crime anywhere if he looks hard enough.

The Disc is a world of many sentient species and it’s a mark of increasing civilization, I think, how many of those have now been incorporated into the everyday doings of society (and into the City Watch itself). But it seems there’s always a new ethnic minority group to be considered. And indeed, there is a hill on the Commander’s country property that stands above a cave system inhabited by a colony of goblins — who stink, steal chickens, have peculiar beliefs, and are nasty in a fight. Which is to say, they’re pretty much like everyone else. However, goblins have historically been dismissed by all the self-described Right People (and by those who kow-tow to the latter and believe they really are better than other people) as vermin, and so they’ve been hunted and killed out of hand. But Vimes is making discoveries about these local goblins that require adjustments in thinking. (Harps? Who knew?) And so his poking about leads him to uncover a tobacco-smuggling operation — but, as he himself says, little crimes lead to big crimes, and the smuggling leads to murder, and to slavery, and to what in our world would be called genocide. Pratchett is something of a small-R republican and doesn’t have much use for the upper classes, which he has often made very clear. (And three-quarters of the way into the story, it may finally dawn on you that the title of the book carries meanings on several levels.) But Pratchett also recognizes real politik. Commander Vimes, on the other hand, is very, very big on The Law, before whom no one is different from anyone else. Law is order and order is law and without order, he says, “one second cannot follow another.” And a policeman must represent only the Law, not the people who appoint him and pay him. Which is sometimes uncomfortable for said appointers and paymasters.

Pratchett’s characters, of course, even the spear-carriers, are painted in at least six or seven dimensions, especially that of Sam Vimes, whom we’ve come to know well over the years, but also including young Chief Constable Feeney Upshot (who holds his rank by virtue of being the only copper in the valley, but who shows promise) and Willikins, Vimes’s very lethal and very loyal gentleman’s gentleman. Even Young Sam, a developing connoisseur of poo, is fast becoming a fully rounded character as well as a natural philosopher. All in all, reading this book will make you, as it did me, as happy as Sam Vimes piloting a riverboat, which is to say, as happy as a cat full of sixpences.

His fans know that Sir Terry is beginning to suffer from a form of early-onset Alzheimer’s and there’s a good deal of concern about how this might affect his writing. While we don’t know, of course, what the future may hold, this latest book — by my count, his 49th (or perhaps 50th) work of fiction — is proof that the man still has it, in amazing abundance.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Greetings,

    Do you know what “happy as a cat full of sixpences” Means?
    Thank you for your attention to this concern.

    • Those are Pratchett’s own inimitable words, and — as with most of his phrase-turning — I simply liked the sound of it. (So I stole it.)

  2. I know it has been over a year for the question. In medieval times there was a moneypouch which was called “cat”, “Katze” in German. It simply was a “Geldkatze”, “money cat” maybe Terry has read about it and coined the phrase. But that is just a more or less educated guess.


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