If you’ve spent any amount of time in Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld, you’ll notice certain names that seem to crop up here and there, characters from stories long past who have faced the trials and tribulations thrown at them by the city of Ankh-Morpork. At this point, I’m pretty sure Sam Vimes, Commander of the Watch has seen the most distance out of any other character. Don’t get me wrong, the only two other books I’ve read that featured Vimes as the main character were Thud! and Night Watch (Both of which I recommend. The events of Thud! are actually referenced in Snuff, which helps shed some light into the darkness, literally. As for Night Watch, well that book is all kinds of awesome) but through the narrative I’m lead to believe that over the past bajillion years of DiscWorld novels, we’ve seen Sam Vimes move up in the world from a lowly copper all the way to Commander of the Watch, Lord Vimes, the Duke of Ankh, and Blackboard Monitor of the Low King of the Dwarves.
Sam has had numerous adventures in pursuit of the law, but the plot of Snuff is based around Vimes doing something wholly unnatural. Vimes is taking a vacation.
It wasn’t his idea, but Vimes had little say in the matter. His wife, Lady Sybil, has an estate out in the country where she used to spend her days as a tiny lady-ette when growing up. When Vimes married into the family, he sort of inherited the estate by default, as well as the surrounding lands. Lady Sybil sees the trip as an opportunity to rub elbows with old family friends and nobles, as well as to give young Sam a chance to learn a bit about his family roots. Still just a young lad, little Sam Vimes sees it as an adventure, wherein he can learn more about the wild world of poop, something that is very interesting to a six-year-old boy.
As for Sam Vimes, well, he sees it as a sentence. It’s not that Vimes doesn’t want to spend time with his family, not in the least. It’s just that those titles gathering up on old Sam Vimes have a tendency to chafe, and that he can’t stop thinking of himself as a copper. He loves the noise of the city, the feel of the cobblestones beneath his feet, a fellow police man out on his route and shouting that all is well every hour. He loves being on the trail of a crime, because it’s just something deep ingrained in his very soul. Sam Vimes is first and foremost a father and devoted husband, but honestly being a copper is a close second.
So, off the Vimes family goes, accompanied by the shady gentleman’s gentleman and family butler Willikins, for a holiday. And Vimes feels betrayed by Ankh-Morpork for not producing a murder or tragedy to rescue him from his relaxing exile.
This is the first DiscWorld novel I’ve read where the action isn’t central on Ankh-Morpork, and honestly I didn’t think I’d miss the city as much as I did when I started reading the novel. It’s chaotic there, and interesting to boot, with different races of people and monsters coming together to eke out an existence in an unusual world. I can see why Vimes would miss the place, even for a holiday of a few weeks.
The country is much slower paced, something that I can relate to, since I can pretty much walk a block and be up to my heels in cows. It’s quiet, but something is off. Vimes can feel it, deep in his bones, and starts a bit of an unofficial investigation, which is tricky since he’s far out of his jurisdiction and even farther from helpful backup. But, before long, a terminally angry blacksmith goes missing the same night a large pool of blood is found and Vimes gets framed for murder. And then, when an untrained lad who likes to call himself a police officer comes to arrest him, a goblin comes running out of the woods screaming for justice. And once again it falls to Sam Vimes put things right.
Snuff isn’t the best DiscWorld book I’ve read. Personally, I prefered Going Postal, mostly because of Moist Von Lipwig, the most ridiculous con man ever. As a Vimes Novel, I actually prefered Thud! and Night Watch more, though that may be because Ankh-Morpork is a fantastic setting for any book. Snuff is a bit slower paced, which is fine, but the real action in the novel is in watching Vimes systematically tear apart the argument of everyone around him just through sheer force of will. Vimes is an avatar of justice, and at this point in his life he’s good at what he does, even if what he does skirts the boundaries of what’s legal or not.
But honestly, the best part of the book for me lies in the exploration of the goblin race. They’re smelly, live in caves, and no one really likes them. They steal to survive, store bodily secretions into jars, and sound like a fat man gargling walnuts when they talk. But through the course of the novel, those dark and smelly creatures will actually become… people. You’ll care about them. They’re the ultimate underdogs.
Just because Snuff is slower paced doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. As is the norm with Pratchett’s books, the novel is stuffed full of clever wordplay and humorous footnotes, silly characters and brilliant commentary. And every Sam Vimes story seems to present you with an ethical dilemma about the law, and whether or not a thing should be done just because it technically is not against the rules. At the end of Snuff, I’m not entirely sure of the answer. I’m not a police man, but that’s just another day at work for Sam Vimes.