by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In some ways the 39th Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett, Snuff is something readers have seen before. Samuel Vimes has once again found a race looked down upon by all of civilization and sets out to prove that members of that race are people, too and should be treated accordingly, with all the rights that apply. What makes Snuff different is that Pratchett has moved the action out of the city of Ankh-Morpork and, instead of moving it to another city or castle, has dropped Vimes and Lady Sybil into the Ramkin's country estate and a relaxation that Vimes is neither prepared, nor desirous, for.
Forced by Lady Sybil and Lord Vetinari to take a vacation, it isn't long before Vimes's police instinct kick in and he begins looking for the dark, seedy underside of country life that he knows must exist, because whether people live is a festering sewer like Ankh-Morpork or among the natural splendour of the countryside, Vimes knows that they are still people. What he discovers is the mistreatment of a colony of goblins (one of the races Vimes hasn't yet helped gain recognition as people). When Vimes begins poking his nose where it isn't welcome, he quickly finds himself arrested for murder and locked up in the local pig sty.
Pratchett uses the change in venue to introduce a number of new characters, including Feeney Upshot, a local policeman who has little training, but is trying his best and quickly comes to recognize that even when he has arrested Vimes he can learn from the Commander how better to do his job. Jefferson, the Blacksmith, isn't as quick to learn, allowing his own prejudices blind him to the reality of the situation. In Jefferson's point of view, because Vimes is a Lord, is is just like all the other lords, despite Vimes's own record in Ankh-Morpork or his ancestor, Old Stoneface Vimes's famous act of regicide. Jefferson, along with Lord Rust, Stratford, and other new characters, also offer Vimes a wide selection of potential criminals to face in solving the crimes he has uncovered.
While Vimes attempt to raise the rest of humanity to a state of consciousness regarding other races and people who are viewed as different takes center stage in the novel, Pratchett also handles his action scenes well, particularly the races down Old Treachery, the local river, which great flair. Rather than the pseudo-medievalism which underlies so much of the Discworld, the riverboats seem more taken from the nineteenth century, and yet, perhaps because the river is separated from the rest of society, the disparate setting works better than might otherwise have been expected. The race ahead of the impending flood is the only part of the novel which Pratchett seems to struggle with, perhaps letting the wildness of the river derail the narrative. Although it is clear what is happening, the text doesn't flow with the same smoothness as it does throughout the rest of Snuff.
Snuff is an excellent addition to the Discworld saga. Despite covering some ground as the previous Vimes novels, Pratchett is able to do so in new and interesting ways. Pulling Vimes outside of his comfort zone of Ankh-Morpork, and not allowing him to hobnob with the upper echelons of society to whom he has grown accustomed to over the course of the series, but rather with the landed gentry and the rural everyman, offers Pratchett the chance to incorporate a fish, albeit a very capable fish with a reputation, out of water story.
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