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Friday, September 24, 2010

Men at Arms

Men at Arms
by Terry Pratchett

The gonne: A weapon that hides and kills from a distance, urging the holder to do its bidding, no mercy. Or is it?

Commander Vimes is one of my all-time favorite characters in the Discworld. With his all-too-human flaws and less-than-perfect life, he still has an unambiguous idea of right from wrong and manages to do the right thing at all costs. And, he can find his way around town in pitch dark by feeling the road under his feet through the cardboard thin soles of his boots.

Starting with Guards! Guards!, Samuel Vimes has grown from a drunken policeman to a decent Captain to a worthy Commander of the Watch. As the central character in Men At Arms, Feet of clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, Thud!, and supporting character in The Truth and Monstrous Regiment, Vimes has grown from strength to strength to become quite a heavy-weight in the Discworld characters.

Speaking of the Watch, especially the Night Watch, Pratchett has managed to throw together a singularly odd bunch of characters starting with the charismatic Corporal Carrot (a 2-meter tall dwarf), Lance-Constable Angua (werewolf), Lance-Constable Detritus (troll), Sergeant Colon, Corporal Nobby Nobbs ('disqualified from the human race')... and the list expands in later books to include a vampire.... each one perfectly chiseled and absolutely unforgettable.

Anyway, Commander Vimes is now on the verge of retiring from policing for good and live the life of leisure as a gentleman, married to the upstanding and eccentric Lady Sybil who rescues and cares for abused dragons. Yes, dragons. Not necessarily the Draco Nobilis kind, of course. Just little swamp ones.

However, on his last day, he gets entangled in this criminal investigation which initially baffles all. It doesn't help that he runs into roadblocks trying to do his job.

Edward d'Eath (yes, Pratchett has a knack for names, like William de Worde in The Truth) is a languishing aristocrat seeking to restore the glory of monarchy. Sam Vimes, honest and blunt, loathes the very idea of royalty, and it doesn't help that his ancestor executed the last king ages ago.

An assassin, a clown, mysterious deaths, elusive weapon all add up to a good detective novel thanks to clever narration and a timeless plot. Especially with the masterly style that Pratchett employs to keep the identity of the gonne well-concealed until it betrays itself shamelessly, leaving us aghast, saying to ourselves: A-ha! so this is what was written on the piece of paper that was a clue several pages ago... and mad genius Leonard of Quirm didn't intend for it to be abused as such...

Gaspode the Wonder Dog we saw in Moving Pictures and The Truth makes a cameo in this as well.

Vimes being Vimes, he doggedly investigates and solves the mystery and things end well. Sort of. If only he can break this habit of running away from ceremonial parades that he is a significant part of...

Incredibly funny and brilliantly thought-provoking as always, Men At Arms is yet another Pratchett I reserve for comfort-reads.

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