Today I Read…Snuff

Today I read Snuff by Terry Pratchett, the 39th book in the Discworld series.

Commander Sam Vines of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch has been sentenced to a dreaful fate by a higher power–his wife, Lady Sybil, insists that he take a vacation. During the family’s nice, quiet, peaceful stay at their country estate, Vimes encounters a dead goblin girl, a chief constable who keeps pigs in the jail cell, snobby servants, snobby nobs, slavers, drug-runners, and the Wonderful Fanny. What’s a poor copper to do? Well, take his son Young Sam out on walks to collect poo, of course. After all, it is a nice family vacation.

This latest entry to the Discworld series  is as strong as ever (no, that’s not a poo joke. I’m saving those for when I read The World of Poo. No, that’s not a joke either; yes, that is a warning). The City Watch books are some of my favourite in the series, and I always did have a soft spot for Sam Vimes. All he wants to do is his job, and they keep making him be all respectable and noble and political and not making any bloody sense. No one does absurdism like the British, and Pratchett is a master at it.

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The awful racket was dying down by the time he drifted up to the linen surface. Oh yes, he recalled, that was another bloody thing about the country. It started too damn early. The commander was, by custom, necessity and inclination, a night-time man, sometimes even an all-night man; alien to him was the concept of two seven o’clocks in one day. On the other hand, he could smell bacon, and a moment later two nervous young ladies entered the room carrying trays on complex metallic things which, unfolded, made it almost but not totally impossible to sit up and eat the breakfast they contained.

Vimes blinked. Things were looking up! Usually Sybil considered it her wifely duty to see to it that her husband lived for ever, and was convinced that this happy state of affairs could be achieved by feeding him bowel-scouring nuts and grains and yoghurt, which to Vimes’s mind was a type of cheese that wasn’t trying hard enough. Then there was the sad adulteration of his mid-morning bacon, lettuce and tomato snack. It was amazing but true that in this matter the watchmen were prepared to obey the boss’s wife to the letter and, if the boss yelled and stamped, which was perfectly understandable, nay forgivable, when a man was forbidden his mid-morning lump of charred pig, would refer him to the instructions given to them by his wife, in the certain knowledge that all threats of sacking were hollow and if carried out would be immediately rescinded.

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It was often a good idea, Vimes had always found, to give the silly bits of the brain something to do, so that they did not interfere with the important ones which had a proper job to fulfil. So he watched his first game of crockett for a full half-hour before an internal alarm told him that shortly he should be back at the Hall in time to read to Young Sam – something that with any luck did not have poo mentioned on every page – and tuck him into bed before dinner.

His prompt arrival got a nod of approval from Sybil, who gingerly handed him a new book to read to Young Sam.

Vimes looked at the cover. The title was The World of Poo. When his wife was out of eyeshot he carefully leafed through it. Well, okay, you had to accept that the world had moved on and these days fairy stories were probably not going to be about twinkly little things with wings. As he turned page after page, it dawned on him that whoever had written this book, they certainly knew what would make kids like Young Sam laugh until they were nearly sick. The bit about sailing down the river almost made him smile. But interspersed with the scatology was actually quite interesting stuff about septic tanks and dunnakin divers and gongfermors and how dog muck helped make the very best leather, and other things that you never thought you would need to know, but once heard somehow lodged in your mind.

Apparently it was by the author of Wee and if Young Sam had one vote for the best book ever written, then it would go to Wee. His enthusiasm was perhaps fanned all the more because a rare imp of mischief in Vimes led him to do all the necessary straining noises.

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‘Can I help you, miss? And perhaps you’ll tell me your name?’

‘Jane, commander. I am endeavouring to be a writer. May I ask if you have any views on that as an acceptable career for a young lady?’

Jane, thought Vimes, the strange one. And she was. She was just as demure as the other sisters, but somehow as he looked at her he got the impression that she was seeing right through him, thoughts and all.

Vimes leaned back in his chair, a little defensively, and said, ‘Well, it can’t be a difficult job, given that all the words have probably been invented already, so there’s a saving in time right there, considering that you simply have to put them together in a different order.’ That was about the limit of his expertise in the literary arts, but he added, ‘What sort of thing were you thinking of writing, Jane?’

The girl looked embarrassed. ‘Well, commander, at the moment I’m working on what might be considered a novel about the complexities of personal relationships, with all their hopes and dreams and misunderstandings.’ She coughed nervously, as if apologizing.

Vimes pursed his lips. ‘Yes. Sounds basically like a good idea, miss, but I can’t really help you on that – though if I was you, and this is me talking off the top of my head, I’d be putting in a lot of fighting, and dead bodies falling out of wardrobes … and maybe a war, perhaps, as a bit of background?’

Jane nodded uneasily. ‘A remarkable suggestion, commander, with much to recommend it, but possibly the relationships would be somewhat neglected?’

Vimes considered this input and said, ‘Well, you might be right.’ Then, out of nowhere, possibly some deep hole, a thought struck him, just as it had many times before, sometimes in nightmares. ‘I wonder if any author has thought about the relationship between the hunter and the hunted, the policeman and the mysterious killer, the lawman who must think like a criminal sometimes in order to do his job, and may be unpleasantly surprised at how good he is at such thinking, perhaps. Just an idea, you understand,’ he said lamely, and wondered where the hell it had come from. Maybe the strange Jane had pulled it out of him and even, perhaps, could resolve it.

‘Would anybody like more tea?’ said Ariadne brightly.

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