Despite his widely publicised illness, Terry Pratchett hasn’t stopped writing and although the quality may be said to be dipping, this book is a peak in the trend. First about the trend – I thought his last adult book ‘Unseen Academicals’ was pretty poor in comparison to some of his best Discworld stuff, but I was impressed by his kids book ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’, and I am really not a great fan of adults reading children’s books (e.g. I have never read any Harry Potter – oh poor me), and he has had peaks and troughs throughout his writing career. This is is not a behaviour displayed solely by Pratchett one only has to look at Stephen King, Iain Banks, Ian Fleming, or Philip K Dick (to name some of my favorite authors who have written a lot of books) to see similar patterns. Some of it is down to experimentation, some down to illness (or getting hit by a car), some to spending too much time on media spots and signings etc. etc. Writers are only human and Pratchett perhaps more human than others.
Pratchett’s books are now a lot more overtly moralistic and contain less slapstick humour than early books. It doesn’t mean he has run out of ideas he is just maturing as a writer and hoping I guess that we are maturing as readers along with him. ‘Snuff’ is a good case in point focusing as it does on how Discworld society treats goblins and is an interesting commentary on how society looks at outsiders. For me it made me think about racism some and about class systems. The views of the ‘bad’ characters in the book are very similar to how the aristocracy of the British Empire probably treated the natives of their colonies viewing them as sub-human because of the their strange customs and appearance – justifying murdering or enslaving them. Sam Vimes the ‘hero’, commander of the City Watch in Ankh-Morpork, goes on holiday to the country with his wife and son. She is landed gentry and some of the book portrays a cast of characters the likes of which you would find in ‘Sense and Sensibility’ or ‘Parade’s End’, but the main plot is that Sam uncovers injustices towards goblins who live in caves on what is essentially his land (through his marriage).
What I liked about this book was that the main character is very well written and not really reliant on having read previous books, he also doesn’t mince his words, which I think might be a departure for Pratchett in that Vimes actually says ‘shit’ and ‘bugger’ quite a lot. Also his son has the charm of a young boy discovering the countryside and developing a fascination with all types of animal poo, in part encouraged by his reading Felicity Beadle’s ‘World of Poo’. Felicity is a character who lives in a cottage in the Shires area and teaches goblin girls music aswell as writing amusing children’s books about snot, farts and suchlike. Pratchett has produced a spin-off book of the same title in much the same way that he did with ‘Where’s My Cow’ which was featured in another Vimes book (‘Thud!’ I think).
I am not entirely enamoured with the title ‘Snuff’ as the stuff isn’t featured particularly heavily in the book – I know it’s a play on worlds and refers to the murder in the book, but all the same it is rather tenuous. The main ‘bad guy’ apart from the toffs who live in various mansions in the area is a plain looking murderer whose intentions Vimes finds easy enough to read but that he finds hard to finally bring to justice. The book therefore has what some would expect to be the ‘big ending’ which is usual for Pratchett, but unusually the story continues beyond that point as Vimes knows that the killer will resurface although he appears to have perished. Vimes is of course quite right and it is some pages later when the bad guy gets his just desserts. This ‘multiple endings’ idea is something Tolkein was criticised for, but I liked it because it gave Pratchett a chance to tie up all loose ends of other sub-plots and complete character arcs for the bit players. (8/10)