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Thus spake Sir Terry. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday will barely have time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.
His Grace, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh and head of the City Watch is going to have a holiday. No appeal is allowed. Not even the Patrician will intervene on his behalf. Lady Sybil has spoken! Not even a holiday at the seaside where a man might easily expect to find shipwrecks and smugglers but into the quiet countryside at an estate they apparently own. Two weeks in the fresh air of the country, eating healthy meals. Not even allowed to take his badge. It's enough to make a strong man rage against fate.
Sam, Lady Sybil, Young Sam and Willikins, Sam's gentleman’s gentleman (who isn’t a gentleman) are off to the Ramkin estate Crundells in The Shires for a two week holiday away from the smoke, smell and crimes of the big city. Here in the bucolic rural setting Sam is prepared not to enjoy himself. But a copper is always on duty, the Law somehow always following him. He may not have jurisdiction but there is something going on which Sam can sense almost immediately. Sam can feel it in the prickling of the hairs on the back of his neck and the subtle little pauses in conversations around him. He is going to find out what is going on and if it's a crime he will put a stop to it. For as he says "Where there are policemen, There’s crime."
Things are done differently in the country. For example, The Duchess of Keepsake has invited them to a ball, Sir Henry and Lady Withering has invited them to a ball and Lord and Lady Hangfinger has invited them to a ball. As Sam says 'That’s a lot of............. invitations'. There are always lots of strange sounds and there can always be somebody watching what is happening. Somebody who can be encouraged to tell a copper what he needs to know.
This story mainly features Sam Vimes and he is a most interesting character. He is a reformed drunk who is very aware of his low origin. He was a street copper and still considers himself one. He is a very moral and idealistic man who never the less is aware those things can never be always as he would wish. He may have killed in the course of his duty but he isn't a killer. He is prepared to occasionally bend the rules and laws so that others won't have to. Lady Sybil recognises the basic goodness in him and treasures him for it. He tries hard not to break the rules for good reasons as soon he believes the rules would get broken for not so good reasons and eventually for bad reasons. That is why he will always spend time with his son. Sam does not hate, as some do, the idle rich. He may despise their attitudes and he may even pity them as they are quite unaware of what they may be missing. Those who hate them are also missing the point. He is considered, even by himself, as not the sharpest knife in the box but he has a dogged determination that has also led to him being called Vetinari's Terrier. Once rather jokingly he referred to himself as 'Blackboard Monitor' from his, admittedly, short schooling to Dwarves.
This is now treated by Dwarves as a term of utmost respect. After all their religion has their God 'Tak' writing everything; so somebody who is allowed, or even required, to erase the written word, so that something new may be written, is very important. He has established a Watch Academy and doesn't object too strongly when other cities poach his trained watchmen as he reasons they have been trained to obey him! And so his view of The Law, is spreading, often by means of The Ankh Morpork 'Times' and gaining greater acceptance. He is also said to fart in the halls of the mighty, though there is no evidence of this having taken place. There is a certain amount of suspicion that Lord Vetinari has had a hand in this holiday somehow.
Sam Junior is a fine strapping six year old lad with a keen interest in poo. He meticulously examines every kind he can find to determine why they are all different and notes his observations in a small note book. This is a very serious subject for a small boy, the makings of a natural philosopher if not following his father’s footsteps as a copper. His parents have high hopes for him and sometimes wish he would have higher things on his mind. As he will someday be Duke he needs to know about the countryside as much as the town.
Lady Sybil is a very well born lady of ample proportions. She dearly loves Sam, something he doesn't always understand, and is willing to put up with his police duties, even if that means rushing away from certain social functions. She has a wide circle of friends and acquaintances and is well known to some of the most powerful persons on the Disc. She has keen artistic appreciation and even a fine singing voice. However there are things that even she will not tolerate. Certain acts of wilful stupidity do seem to annoy her very much. She knitted Sam several pairs of socks, which he duly wears but does not enjoy wearing. Her main interest in life used to be the breeding of swamp dragons, though that hasn't been mentioned much of late.
There is a larger role for Willikinns in this story. We learn some of his history. He is now what may be called spry. Slightly elderly perhaps but still a very dangerous man. Loyal to the family and trustworthy for a given value of trust. Not a man you would want as an enemy.
We are also introduced to some new characters, many of which we would immediately recognise from life and from every other crime drama set in a rural setting. Midsummer Murder and Agatha Christie spring to mind. We do not get to meet the main villain though his accomplices and henchman we do meet. We are allowed to infer things about him. The henchman is a suitably nasty sort though. All the characters are a delight. We do have some cameo roles from others of the Watch, and even the reappearance of a familiar fiend. Perhaps rather surprisingly DEATH does not make a personal appearance, it could be that he's had enough near Vimes' experiences to last his 'lifetime' though he has taken to bringing along a good book to read.
The technology of the Discworld is different from ours with such a delightful twist to it. We have ox powered river craft that bring to mind sternwheelers on the Mississippi, something I am quite sure was in Sir Terry's mind when he envisioned them. Even the river they ply seems to resemble Mississippi in certain aspects. This is the river Quire that flows down to Quirm and its considerably more liquid than the river Ankh
I have taken as my review title a plea made by a Goblin. Here 'Every body knows' that Goblins are dirty, stinking vermin. They look like they were made from the bits that were left over when The Gods created the other races. Their speech does sound rather like gargling with a mouthful of gravel. They have some strange habits but can somehow produce exquisite pots that are occasionally looted from Goblin grave sites and are highly prized among collectors. The wonder, that nobody wonders about, is how such a low, brutish race can produce such things of beauty. These Goblins do have names and their own religion. Many know something about their religious habits but appear to be ignorant of the fact that they have their own names rather than the human 'Hey You or Stinky'. Some Goblins have even found work in the big city where they work for Harry King, the refuse and recycling man. Here their smell isn’t obvious among all the other smells.
Here we have, on the face of it, a story of Sam Vimes going on holiday into the country and finding a murder. At first he was not happy to have to go on holiday, especially the country which he thought was going to be very boring. But he suspects that something is going on and when a murder occurs, he knows it is.
Part of this book deals with his solving this crime. It involves lots of action. Chases involving coaches, river travel and even a sea voyage. This allows for quite some humour to be made. There are some rather funny names of people and places, well up to Sir Terry's usual standard. This is not the sort of crime story that the reader can solve along with the fictional detective from clues supplied in the narrative. But we do get to follow Sam Vimes' reasoning as the story is told from a third person perspective.
But apart from this there is a very serious issue underlying the whole story. It is not just a question of slavery but the treating of other sentient beings as things. Sometimes religion is used as a justification for such treatment. Sometimes it is just a matter of greed. Sometimes it’s just the way it has always been and we don't need any reasons. Any way it is wrong. I have never subscribed to the view that I and others like me are better than others solely due to the colour of my skin. There have been many such individuals and societies in our world that have. Sometimes a whole nation has taken the view of their superiority to extremes and we have many a sad occurrence because of this. You should be able to name them as well as I can.
To me, competence is far more important than a person’s colour or religious beliefs. I will defend the right of any person who wants to worship their God in their way provided that way does not advocate unwilling human sacrifice#. I would like people to be tolerant of other person’s beliefs. My God may not be yours and I have no right to force my beliefs on you. I expect the same from you and will resist any attempt to force change on me.
In this novel Sir Terry treats this matter with seriousness and also with humour. Sir Terry is not making fun of any sect but he is showing us how we can see the funny side of some situations. If we can laugh at ourselves I feel that we are in a far healthier mental situation. It’s just a pity that those who could benefit most will probably not be among his readers. As one character says "The hated have no reason to love!"
This quote has been attributed to Edward Burke, though there is no evidence he actually did say it, “In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing." Even our roundworld 'The Times' says "Behind the fantasy [he] looks at very real contemporary issues". It is said that in the end all sins are forgiven, but are they? There are some things that are seriously bad. Treating people like things is, I believe, one of them. I may not forgive but then I am a mortal not a god. It's his/her/its job.
This is the 39th Discworld novel. Things have come a long way since they first crossed our horizon way back in 1983. Worldwide more than 70 million copies have been sold and works are translated into 37 languages.
This novel can be read without ever having read any of the others first, though I would recommend reading them first so that you can get the full flavour of this world. The names and the humour are as original as ever and what I would advise is to read and enjoy the humour first and then to reread slowly to savour the work and to think about the issues. ( I dislike that phrase as I believe it is over used by trade unions, politicians and every interest group going)
Getting hold of your copy. As this has just recently been published hard cover is available. It should be found fairly easily in most main stream booksellers. RRP is £18.99 Amazon are offering this at £8.16. They are also offering a Kindle edition at £5.59 and Audio CD abridged at £9.75 and Audio download at £18.00 They are also offering Paperback pre order at £5.68 There are even some used from £7.35. So there should be something to suit every taste. As ever it can pay to shop around for what suits you best.
Final words. Snuff can refer to the pulverised leaves of the tobacco plant. Such product is generally inhaled or “snuffed" through the nose. It has generally been considered far more aristocratic than smoking.
Snuff is also English slang to denote killing or death.
#Many years ago there was a plague of members of a cult [not Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons] trying everything to engage you in conversation in the street and get you into their temple. I suggested that I was Druidic and believed in human sacrifice and even offered to hold an impromptu ceremony for the person who was pestering me. They left with a speed many an Olympic sprinter would have envied and never bothered me again though they remained in the city for a while. Perhaps I shouldn't have but they did irritate me and I was much younger then.
So get hold of a copy of this work and settle down to a good read. Highly recommended.