Terry Pratchett has now written 39 novels set in the Discworld universe he created when he wrote The Colour of Magic in 1983. The British fantasy writer’s sense of humour is constant through books that combine genres such as detective fiction and political thrillers, with subjects ranging from feminism to militaristic jingoism. Despite the early onset of Alzheimer’s, with which he was diagnosed at the age of 59 in 2007, Pratchett continues to write almost one Discworld novel every year. He cannot type or write any more; instead, he uses a voice-recognition software on his computer, which he says has made his writing style more conversational.
His latest novel, Snuff, is set around his long-established character Sam Vimes, and is rich in references and callbacks to other Discworld books. It is a story about class, about law and about justice, and Pratchett manages to be both funny and gripping, never trivializing the subjects he makes fun of. You don’t have to have read his other books to enjoy Snuff, although long-time readers might find explanations to past events slowing the book a little.
Snuff—A Discworld Novel: Doubleday, 384 pages, £18.99 (around Rs 1,500).
Snuff is a police procedural at heart and, like previous Vimes books, shows us the darkest parts of the Discworld. Vimes is on his family estate on vacation, but as his boss, the beloved tyrant Lord Vetinari, has noted, where there are policemen, crimes inexplicably follow.
Vimes’ busman’s holiday begins with the murder of a goblin on his land. As Vimes sets out to investigate the murder, he discovers at work a larger conspiracy built around human hatred for the goblins that live under their land. The goblins are almost universally despised—they are a primitive race with no culture of their own, except for a strange religion that requires them to retain their snot, earwax and nails (but not teeth, for some reason), and are known to eat their young.
Naturally, no one other than Vimes is interested in investigating the murder.
As Vimes digs around, he slowly begins to learn about goblin culture. And even as Pratchett explores this, he manages to throw in a boat chase, a crazed killer, a close look at the class divisions between the landowners and the below-stairs staff, and a nod to Jane Austen, with a proper young country lady writing a book called Pride and Extreme Prejudice—dedicated to Vimes.
Pratchett makes you laugh, but over the years, as his writing style has matured, he’s less reliant on one-off gags and wordplay, and instead lets the situation itself drive the humour. This means that the books have gotten darker over the years, and his characters have to earn their happy endings.
In Snuff, he manages to raise a lot of thoughtful points about our world through the lens of Discworld, and succeeds in telling a gripping story.
Snuff was launched globally as a Kindle e-book on 11 October, and is available on the Kindle store for $14.58 (around Rs 700).