Review of SNUFF by Terry Pratchett
Harper, October 2011
With the help of his cold-blooded "gentleman's gentleman," Vimes co-opts the local constable who is sent to arrest him, and sets off on an investigation... always trying to make it back in time for his son's story-time. Young Sam (Vimes's son) has, at this point, become fascinated with poo--to the extent that he's developing an extensive collection of catalogued poo for dissection and study. Back in Ankh-Morpork, the city watch is confounded when one of their officers finds a mysterious goblin bottle that seems to trap him, making him unable to work and quickly sickening him. Through no coincidence, goblins are also at the heart of Vimes's investigation in the countryside.
Author Terry Pratchett (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of fantasy by Pratchett) combines humor with keen social commentary in a powerful and compelling adventure. I found myself laughing out loud at a number of points in this story--Pratchett is the master of the clever twist, the unexpected use of humor to defuse a tense situation, and, of course, the pun (starting with Young Sam's affection for the book The World of Poo). There's a lot going on here, though, beyond simple humor. Pratchett hypothesizes a race of goblins who survive (more or less) at the boundaries of society, living in rags and stink, suffering from ill-health caused largely by a deficient diet, and generally regarded as lacking basic intelligence. To Vimes, if they can call for justice, they're entitled to police protection. Others don't see it this way--and are prepared to take legal action to stop Vimes's noble attempts.
Although there's a lot of message in the story, Pratchett surrounds the message with a fast-paced adventure. Vimes finds himself confronting officious local nobles, suspicion from the goblins, smugglers, kidnappers, a raging flood, and a criminal who seems to have more lives than a cat. I suspect many of Pratchett's teen fans will read Snuff with plenty of chuckles and enjoy a good fantasy adventure. Adult readers will also find a thoughtful commentary on our own civilization buried not particularly deeply beneath the crossbow bolts and rusty armor.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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