Saturday, December 31, 2011
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Starting the New Year off with a review! Fittingly that review is of a Terry Pratchett Discworld book, which from memory was actually the first book I reviewed back in early 2010. That book was Unseen Academicals, two years on and Sir Terry (he was knighted a few years back for his services to literature) has written two more books in his long running Discworld series. 2011's offering is Snuff.
Snuff is the 39th of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books and allows readers to revisit with an old friend; Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch. The books featuring the City Watch, and it's unusual roster of guards, along with their rough and ready, tough as nails leader Samuel Vimes, are amongst the most popular with the series many fans. The last of the City Watch books was Thud back in 2005, so there was a lot of excitement among readers about Snuff.
Interestingly Snuff doesn't feature much of the City Watch, there are cameos from dwarven raised Captain Carrott, the werewolf Angua, the troll Detritus, Corporal Nobby Nobbs (no one is really sure what species Nobby is), the old fashioned corruptible sergeant Fred Colon, the interestingly named dwarf Cheery Littlebottom and the Watches Nac Mac Feegle member Wee Mad Arthur, however the character that carries the book is Sam Vimes. Sam's a great character, but he struggles to carry the book or hold the readers interest without his supporting cast. He does have his wife Lady Sybil Ramkin, his son the poo obsessed 6 year old Young Sam, and his gentleman's gentleman Willikins to help him out, and all three do provide some humour in Snuff, especially Young Sam and his interest in poo.
Sam has been forced by his wife Sybil to go on leave and pay a visit to their country estate. By marrying Sybil, Samuel Vimes gained the title of Duke of Ankh Morpork, and everything that goes with it. This includes a country estate, which he has never visited before. Sam's a city boy, born and raised in the slums of Ankh Morpork, he's also a copper through and through and finds it impossible to leave behind. So before long he's sniffed out a mystery involving the death of a young goblin girl, and a thriving trade in the wretched creatures, who are being shipped to Howondaland as labour for the tobacco, or snuff, plantations. I found it rather interesting that a country representative of England (Ankh Morpork) was sending slave labour to another area representative of Africa (Howondaland), a nice reversal of what happened in our world.
I found Vimes' investigation into events rather fomulaic and repetitive, readers have seen this before, although I liked the way his initial investigation seemed to echo the popular and long running British detective series Midsomer Murders (it may have helped that while I was reading that section of the book my wife was watching an episode of Midsomer Murders on TV). I actually preferred the earlier parts of the book which neatly described the lifestyle of the extremely wealthy and titled in 17th and early 18th century Britain. Sam discovers that his wife's estate even has a resident hermit (many country estates did, they were the 'must have' item for any well set up country estate). Sam unintentionally also rather humourously inspires what will become one of the most popular works of fiction from the era; Pride and Extreme Prejudice by Hermione Gordon, whose mother and unmarried sisters can only be modelled on the Bennet's from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Snuff is an enjoyable read for anyone who has enjoyed Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, especially if one is a fan of the City Watch or Sam Vimes, but there's something lacking in this one. It struggles to find focus early on, although I quite enjoyed Sam's discovery of the village and his experience with their sport of crockett (kind of like a combination of croquet and cricket, with totally incomprehensible rules), and his bonding with his son during the walks on the estate and search for poo of all various sorts to add to Young Sam's growing collection, but I did have the niggling thought in the back of my mind of where was the story in all of this, interesting and amusing as it may have been. While various members of the City Watch were included briefly there was an air of them just being there to satisfy fans and not really adding much to the story itself. I also think Vimes isn't a layered enough character to be able to bear the weight of a book by himself, not now that readers know him so well.
If you're a fan, you'll love it, but while it has moments, overall Snuff isn't quite what readers have come to expect from their annual dose of Sir Terry Pratchett.