It is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday would barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse. And Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in the pleasant and innocent countryside, but not for him a mere body in the wardrobe, but many, many bodies and an ancient crime more terrible than murder.
He is out of his jurisdiction, out of his depth, out of bacon sandwiches, occasionally snookered and occasionally out of his mind, but not out of guile. Where there is a crime there must be a finding, there must be a chase and there must be a punishment. They say that in the end all sins are forgiven. But not quite all…
For those of you who may have only recently landed on the planet and therefore haven’t yet picked up a Discworld novel, my strong piece of advice is not to continue reading Snuff, but do yourselves a huge favour and – no, you don’t have to go right back to the very start of this hilarious and wonderfully inventive world, although I would recommend it – but do at least read Guards, Guards!, Night Watch and Thud! before tucking into Snuff. I don’t suggest for one moment that you’ll spend the novel floundering around in a morass of incomprehension if you do skip these books – Pratchett is far too accomplished to lock any of his books so tightly into the overarching world – but you certainly will gain more if you understand and know more about this complicated protagonist.
As for the rest of us, the question has to be – does this book tick the boxes? Do we find ourselves sucked into Pratchett’s imaginative invention, and seared by Vimes’s simmering anger against injustice?
Well, one of the major characters that normally features in Discworld novels is missing. Vimes has been frog-marched off to the country estate with his family to get a much-needed break and introduce Young Sam to the countryside. So Ankh-Morpok isn’t the vivid backdrop to this book and we have Vimes’s rather bemused and amusing reaction to country life as the setting to all the action. Pratchett makes up for this hole by giving us slices of humour in Vimes’s jaundiced reactions. However, the humour turns into something more sombre when Vimes finds himself confronted with a goblin settlement on his land and begins to discover just how downtrodden and persecuted they are. The tale is delivered with Pratchett’s customary slick handling of narrative tension and I found myself – despite my best intention to really savour the book – zipping through it to find what happens next.
What Snuff doesn’t do, is give us any further major insights into Vimes as a character. We learn a bit more about Young Sam, as a boy of six and Pratchett gives us more details about yet another species in the Discworld genus – goblins. As ever, those details are both poignant and hilarious – vintage Pratchett, in fact. However, by the end of the book I got the sense that we were witnessing the beginning of Vimes learning to like himself just a little bit more. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline which was both enjoyably familiar and yet different enough to hold my interest. The frantic journey along a storm-swollen river in an oxen powered cargo boat is one of the standout Discworld action scenes, in my opinion. And as a committed Pratchett fan, I found Snuff right up there as one of the stronger offerings in the Discworld series.