Snuff: A City Watch novel without the City Watch

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Snuff is Terry Pratchett’s latest DISCWORLD novel to feature the City Watch. Well, actually, the City Watch is largely absent. Lady Sybil, insists that she and Commander Sam Vimes take their son, Young Sam, to the countryside for a vacation.

The vacation begins smoothly. Vimes and his family retreat to the country, where Vimes encounters Sybil’s well-to-do peers. Vimes hobnobs, or tries to, but he finds the nobility a bit stuffy. Still, he is the Duke of Ankh and does not want to disappoint Sybil, so he tries to fit in. The awkwardness of these exchanges makes up the much of the humor of the novel’s opening scenes. The rest of the humor in the novel consists of Young Sam’s enthusiasm for “poo,” a word that Young Sam and Pratchett can’t get enough of in Snuff.

Vimes has moved up in the world, but he remains a copper at heart. He eventually leaves the confines of Sybil’s family estate and finds a pub. Though he abstains while there, the local blacksmith, Jethro, invites Vimes to step outside. Readers will be pleased to learn that although Vimes left his fellow officers in Ankh-Morpork, he remembered to pack his knuckledusters. Unfortunately, Jethro is murdered that night and Vimes is the prime suspect.

Snuff is not, however, the novel about when Vimes was suspected of murder and had to prove his innocence. Instead, it is just a device that brings Vimes into contact with the local police (Constable Upshot). Vimes, who is out of his jurisdiction, takes over the case and begins looking into the abuse of goblins.

Although the City Watch novels are generally my favorite DISCWORLD entries, I was not moved by Snuff. I found the plot and the humor predictable and repetitive. In fact, I suspect that many readers will already sense the entire plot when they first encounter a goblin’s head on display at the local pub. Vimes has leaped these hurdles before.

I found it difficult to ignore how much more interesting Vimes used to be. Readers have rightly applauded Pratchett for his careful development of Vimes’s character over the course of the City Watch novels. Perhaps he has gone too far. Vimes now appears to have transcended mortal restraints and has become almost invincible: the villainous plots are transparent to him, the youthful thugs that stand against him are easily dispatched, and politics and norms of the countryside do not distract him from his moral compass. Worse, Vimes regularly explains his irrefutable logic and worldview to his supporting cast, which gives much of the novel the feel of a lecture. And I missed the other members of the City Watch (they do appear, but only briefly).

Snuff offers readers one of Terry Pratchett’s most popular heroes in Commander Sam Vimes. However, its plot consists of bad guys doing bad things; Vimes discovers injustice and, like just clockwork, springs into action. Unfortunately, the biggest risk Vimes takes here is not fighting crime but rather trying to carry a novel without his officers.I listened to Harper Audio’s production of Snuff, which was read by Stephen Briggs. Briggs turns in another wonderful performance, and he remains one of my favorite readers. Here, I was impressed by how consistently he was able to read Young Sam’s lines.

Published in 2011. Publisher: For nearly three decades, Terry Pratchett has enthralled millions of fans worldwide with his irreverent, wonderfully funny satires set in the fabulously imaginative Discworld, a universe remarkably similar to our own. From sports to religion, politics to education, science to capitalism, and everything in between, Pratchett has skewered sacred cows with both laughter and wisdom, and exposed our warts, foibles, and eccentricities in a unique, entertaining, and ultimately serious way. At long last, Lady Sybil has lured her husband, Sam Vimes, on a well-deserved holiday away from the crime and grime of Ankh-Morpork. But for the commander of the City Watch, a vacation in the country is anything but relaxing. The balls, the teas, the muck—not to mention all that fresh air and birdsong—are more than a bit taxing on a cynical city-born and -bred copper. Yet a policeman will find a crime anywhere if he decides to look hard enough, and it’s not long before a body is discovered, and Sam—out of his jurisdiction, out of his element, and out of bacon sandwiches (thanks to his well-meaning wife)—must rely on his instincts, guile, and street smarts to see justice done. As he sets off on the chase, though, he must remember to watch where he steps. . . . This is the countryside, after all, and the streets most definitely are not paved with gold. Hailed as the “purely funniest English writer since Wodehouse” (Washington Post Book World), with a “satirist’s instinct for the absurd and a cartoonist’s eye for the telling detail” (Daily Telegraph, London), Terry Pratchett offers a novel of crime, class, prejudice, and punishment that shows this master at his dazzling best.

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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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  1. sandyg265 /

    I tried reading Snuff and wasn’t able to finish it.

  2. Drat! I recently bought this at Audible. Drat!

  3. Snuff made me sad reading it. The Discworld books basically got me back into reading when I was a teenager and to see Terry Pratchett produce something as tedious as Snuff is just depressing. Vimes has become such a bore. He rabbits on about The Law and every fifth word in his long speeches was “Copper”. What does he mean by the Law anyway? The self-appointed magistrates can’t decide what is law apparently but he and/or Vetinari can?
    I also thought so many were out of character. Willikins was so far off it made me wonder if this book was ghost-written. The Willikins of old never went on and on about hard he was.

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