Snuff – Terry Pratchett
Snuff never quite wields that cutlass of social satire that has hacked its way through previous Watch novels, nor does it weave as intricate and compelling a storyline as its predecessors, but long-time fans of the series will know that these are not what this 39th Discworld novel aspires to.
This is a simple tale of Samuel Vimes being Samuel Vimes, and fans will love it for that.
The street urchin who grew up in the poorest areas of the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork has, over a long career as a copper, earned more titles than any man should ever have in one lifetime, and is very well aware of that. The fact that he clings to the title of blackboard monitor, given to him as a child when he was made one for a whole term, amidst his loftier ones which include Commander of the City Watch and Duke of Ankh, very succinctly sums up his character. He has a profound contempt for the higher class that has never wavered while he has fought, grappled, choked and kicked his way up the ladder of society to become one of its most prominent figures.
In Snuff he finally agrees to take a well-deserved holiday. A break from Ankh-Morpork for his wife and six-year old son (who is very good at reading but chooses only to read about poo) sounds like a good idea. Until a crime is discovered, that is, and Vetirari’s terrier, one of Vimes’ less official titles, sniffs out the deep and dark secrets of the countryside borne from the attitude of its high and mighty towards what they consider to be the vermin of society.
While this may sound like a thematic dissection of the double-standards of society, rest assured that Snuff comfortably veers away from patronizing and over-condescending preaching about racism and morals. These themes may be obvious in the novel, but they are never zealously thrust into the readers’ faces, as lesser writers would do. Snuff develops into a simple tale of quintessential Vimes, who finds something wrong and moves heaven and earth, and hell, to set things right.
The other members of the City Watch tragically only have a few scenes in the book, and they are sorely missed as the best part of these novels have often come from the way the different officers use their idiosyncratic talents, (or lack of, in case of Sergeants Colon and Nobby) to tackle a case. However, Constable Feeney Upshot, who is the only representative of whatever tenuous law they have in that part of the countryside, is a welcome addition to the cast. Vimes becomes a mentor to him, with often hilarious results, in the same way that he mentored his own young self in Night Watch.
In the end, Snuff feels like a holiday trip for the long-time readers of the Discworld series as much as it is one for Samuel Vimes. Fans will be more than satisfied with it, until Terry Pratchett gets the whole gang back together for a more familiar Ankh-Morpork City Watch novel.