Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Published in 2011
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“The goblin experience of the world is the cult or perhaps religion of Unggue.”
Commander Samuel Vimes is being pushed out of the very occupation he lives for by the one thing a career criminal catcher fears the most: vacation. In Snuff, this catalyst sends Vimes and his family off to their country estate so he can take a much needed holiday. Well, much needed in the opinion of everyone except Sam Vimes. However, it isn’t long into the trip that trouble rears its ugly head in the shape of a mysterious murder. True to his nature, Vimes jumps at the chance to bring justice to the ne’er-do-wells among the knolls.
Vimes, completely out of his comfort zone, is taken from the streets that he has known since he was a boy and forced to trade them in for dirt roads and the quiet cacophony of nature. Accustomed to the loud noise of muggings, bar fights and midnight calls of “All is well!”, the relative silence of scurrying field mice and pecking chickens is anathema to Vimes’s peace of mind.
Though he lacks the ability to sleep in the country, Vimes gains some help dealing with the nobles and his own household staff from his wife and his thug-turned-butler, Willikins. The decorum of the higher class is fraught with traditions maintained purely due to the fact that they have always been done that way. For example, the maids all face away from Vimes when he walks nearby; this is because of men of the house in the past who had succumbed to temptation after looking at women other than their wives. Due to this, most of the female staff spin about when he comes near. Vimes doesn’t try very hard to sympathize with his fellow aristocrats because of this silliness, least of all when he is forced into a formal dinner with them.
However, trouble doesn’t leave Vimes’s side for long as he discovers the shady background of small town living that Stephen King’s many stories could have warned him about if he lived in this universe. At dinner, Vimes learns of the contempt toward goblins that many of the locals feel. After making friends with the local blacksmith (through a fist fight, like most upstanding members of society), Vimes agrees to meet him atop a nearby hill that night to learn about the mistreatment of the local goblin population.
However, true to police procedural storytelling form, when Vimes arrives at the prearranged time and place there is no blacksmith to meet him, simply a pool of blood with a finger lacking the rest of its body. The local police, comprised of one fledgling officer, attempts to arrest Vimes because he was at the scene and instead is conscripted into his service to get to the bottom of the murder.
Through his investigation, Vimes learns about goblin culture and how they make small pots to hold their bodily secretions and toe nails (mmm tasty). Apparently everything that the goblin body creates is held sacred, so they keep them all in containers called unggue pots. I don’t know why the people in this story think goblins are vermin. I mean, who doesn’t want to bottle up their fluids for safe keeping and religious observance?
Goblins aren’t the only characters in Snuff who are interested in products made by the body. Vimes’s son, Young Sam, is a precocious and inquisitive six-year-old that finds himself increasingly interested in scatology (known in science by its technical term: poo studies). Many times throughout the book Vimes’s inner thoughts are interrupted by his son explaining the categorical differences and identifiable characteristics of the feces of different farm animals. This makes for quite a few chuckles and some comic relief in a story otherwise focused on goblin murders.
Being the sequel to Thud!, Snuff carries over themes and plot points into its narrative. The Summoning Dark is still present in Vimes’s psyche and allows him to see in the dark as well as stay one step ahead of the murderer he pursues. However, Vimes questions the difference between himself and those criminals because he has this connection with them. He knows what he is capable due to a rough upbringing on the streets of Ankh-Morpork and struggles to keep the darkness within himself in check. However, Vimes is able to surpass his dark inklings in order to maintain law and . . . order. He does not kill Stratford (the murderer…spoiler alert?) despite the attempt on Young Sam’s life. **Spoiler alert** Willikins has no such qualms about killing and let’s just say he gives Stratford what’s coming to him.
Snuff is a raucous ride through the countryside with political intrigue, conspiracies, hand to hand fighting, and more poo than you throw children at (you read that correctly). Pratchett’s humor flows through the pages and the complex narrative and machinations of the evil aristocrats make for a compelling read with plenty of laughs along the way.
Verdict: 5 bacon sandwiches out of 5
Recommended for: People who enjoy police procedurals set in the rural areas of Discworld, sarcastic people, sardonic people, sarcastically sardonic people, those who have read Thud!, and you.
Not recommended for: Goblins, the nobles living near the Ramkin Estate, evil doers, or Stratford.