Moist von Lipwig has got Ankh-Morpork’s once-moribund Post Office ticking over nicely. Which is all very well, but he’s addicted to adrenalin, a terrible drug which can bring men so low they’ll break into their own office just for the kicks. His fiancée is away hunting lost golems and the City of Ankh Morpork needs someone to take over the job of running the Royal Bank and Mint. Needless to say, anyone taking up that job against the wishes of the poisonous Lavish family is practically signing his own death warrant. Except that the Patrician signed Moist’s some time ago.
Increasingly, the leitmotiv of the Ankh Morpork-centred books is the Patrician, as he pulls strings and juggles to keep the city running and himself at the centre of things. In fact, he’s almost as essential (and popular among readers) as the other tall, thin character who dresses in black. It’s interesting to see the way some characters who, like Sam Vimes of the Watch, were clearly just brought into the books just liven things up a bit, but who ended up staying, doing very well for themselves, and in some cases marrying heiresses, though not necessarily rich ones. Havelock Vetinari, after a bit of a false start in The Colour of Magic, is one of these. In him there are shades of Hans “I am an exceptional thief” Grüber, Jeeves and his psychology of the individual, possibly a little Sir Humphrey Appleby (Drumknott is certainly a Bernard); he is a cool-headed, ruthless tyrant who makes a point of not being one. And, oddly enough, he is not only extraordinarily fond of small yappy dogs, there are also a few people he seems to actually like, insofar as he could be said to like anybody. Sam Vimes is one, though he doesn’t realise it, and Moist von Lipwig is another.
Moist is rather brighter than Vimes, but he has a tendency to let his mouth lead and his brain follow – rather like the current president of France, except that Moist is endowed with the most unmasculine trait of intuition and is, all unbeknownst to himself, a business genius. Alright, so he’s a dyed-in-the-wool con man (still talking about Moist here). The line between successful con man and brilliant salesman is so fine as to be nigh-invisible, defined in the book as selling sizzle rather than the sausage. All that Moist has to do is: avoid a major financial crisis; modernise the banking system; find a way to get the Ankh-Morpork dollar off the gold standard because somebody stole the gold in the vaults; make sure nobody assassinates the Chairman, who’s a small ugly dog; and await the inevitable day when someone from his past reveals him to the world for what he is: an ex-crook.
This is the thirty-first book in the Discworld series not counting the children’s books; it’s the thirty-sixth if you do. That Mr Pratchett should still be delivering quality stuff in the same vein is frankly mind-boggling. It shouldn’t happen. With most series you’re lucky if you get past half-a-dozen decent books, many founder long before. Oh, there are a few jokes we’ve already heard, and we could probably have dispensed with the Glooper – although we’d have missed out on a nerdy scientist whose description closely resembles that of Beaker the Muppet, plus an Igor – but we have a genuinely gripping tale with quite a lot of character development. And a dog. Why Terry Pratchett writes so many tales involving dogs is a bit of a mystery, since he has a genetic disposition to be owned by cats. Perhaps he, too, is being turned into Vetinari’s terrier.