And this is why you knight your favorite people when you’re the city Patrician. Right?
Colon and Nobby search around the room that Ossie Blunt was living in, pretending to be boarders. They find Klatchian money, sand, and a broken window, so Fred believes they’ve got an open and shut case of politics on their hands. Nobby is less sure of this. Sybil tells Vimes that he needs to start delegating more, but just as they’re about to have a night in, Cheri shows up and tells him there’s been a murder. Goriff’s son shoots a man with his father’s crossbow when the fellow rushes into their establishment. Carrot and Angua go out in plainclothes, though Carrot hates it because he feels like it’s spying—also he’s using a disguise from a Mr. Potatohead set. They head to the University, where they think the second triggerman was, and the Librarian takes them up to the fifth floor. Angua changes and gets enough info via her nose for them to figure out that the man waiting up there was Snowy Slopes, a professional hitman as Vimes assumed. Unfortunately, Snowy has just been beheaded. Also unfortunately, because Carrot is doing plainclothes work, the officer on the scene at Scandal Alley is Detritus. Vimes gets there before the troll can threaten the entire mob under the Riot Act, and gets them to disperse. They get the Goriff family to spend the night at the Watch House for safety when Corporal Littlebottom appears again to let Vimes know that the Klatchian Embassy is on fire.
Carrot and Angua also go over Ossie’s room while Vimes arrives at the flaming embassy and forces his way in because very few people are rushing in to help (and the guards also won’t let anyone in). A mysterious man helps him ferry people out of the building. Carrot and Angua talk to a gnoll named Stoolie, leading them to Slopes’ place and his body. They notice the fire in the distance. Vimes comes outside with Colon looking after him—the mystery man is nowhere to be found, but Vimes aided in the rescue of a few people before the floor gave way and Dorfl brought him to safety. Carrot and Angua run up in the aftermath, and Vimes decides to go back to the Yard to do paperwork before he goes home, despite being burned all over and swaying. Sybil looks over portraits of her family and ponders why men go to war, and how they seem to view their families as aspects of life to collect and then stop thinking about. Back at the Yard, a group of Klatchians led by Mr. Wazir come to berate the Watch for “holding” the Goriff family. Vimes tells Fred to sort things and let the family leave with this group if they want.
Nobby goes to visit Mrs. Cake who does a palm reading for him and assures him that he will be surrounded by women sometime soon in the future. Vimes and his senior officers are summoned to the palace and he meets with Lord Rust… who is replacing the Patrician for the duration of the “emergency.” Rust tells him to arrest all Klatchians as the city is going to war with their people. When Vimes plays dumb, Rust insists that Vimes has been slipping, and that his idea of the law is inherently flawed, and that he invaded Klatchian soil when he helped during the fire. Prince Khufurah has been kidnapped, and so Rust relieves Vimes of his duties, and tries to make Carrot Commander, but he refuses. Everyone down the line proceeds to refuse and turn over their badges. Prince Kalif, the deputy ambassador to Klatch arrives. Both sides give each other twelve hours to remove their people from Leshp or it’s war. Vimes heads home and goes to sleep. The disbanded officers head to the streets the next day to look about and contemplate war. Vimes wakes and remembers the letter from Vetinari—which turns out to be a blank piece of paper, addressed to him, a knight. Getting the message, Vimes heads to the house library to read up on chivalry, then leaves the house to “kick some arse” with Sybil’s blessing.
Carrot walks the Goriff family to a boat that will take them back to Klatch. Goriff’s son Janil is furious because he’s never been there—Ankh-Morpork is his home. 71-hour Ahmed shows up at the dock, and Goriff advises Carrot not to confront him even though he’s a suspect; he’s a D’reg, a desert tribe of people who are dangerous but honorable. Angua decides to transform and board the ship with Klatchian hunting dogs to see if she can find clues. Colon and Nobby are patrolling even without their jobs, and talking about Klatchians, which Fred keeps trying to explain are inferior to Ankh-Morporkians, despite Nobby pointing out all the ways they’re exactly alike. They are poorly held up in the street by Leonard of Quirm, who is clearly acting on Vetinari’s behalf. Vimes walks into Lord Rust’s war meeting to let him know that as a knight, he has to maintain his own regiment, and that he’s gotten the former Watch to join up. Colon and Nobby manage to disarm Leonard (because he gives them his weapon as he tries to upgrade it on the spot), but he manages to convince them to come with him by explaining that the Patrician wants them for a special mission. Vimes gets a note about Colon and Nobby’s mission, which happens to be going to Klatch via the submarine Leonard has created. Colon wants to back out, but the Patrician appears and assures them that this is what they’re doing… so they naturally agree.
As we move into the next act of the book, where Vimes has trouble reconciling with war and keeps trying to shove it into a conspiracy/crime box so that it makes more sense to him, we get the Great Resignation of the Watch and a reforming into a new regiment under Vimes’ rank of knight. Which, Vetinari is basically the world’s nicest DM who keeps leveling Vimes up and giving him extra stuff so that he can play against the big boys in the city, and no wonder everyone is talking about your extremely normal relationship. (That blank letter? Your lordship, you love playing with this man far too much, it’s embarrassing.)
It also leads to fascinating conversations like the confrontation with Lord Rust, where he tries to suggest that Vimes won’t like contending with him as a civilian and Vimes replies, “A watchman is a civilian, you inbred streak of piss!”
This is fascinating because… well, in U.S. policing there’s a definite bent toward telling cops that they’re the opposite of civilians, and they shouldn’t trust civilians, that civilians are the enemy. (Which is how you wind up with police departments using gear that was developed for war against their own populations at home.) We’re far from the only country with this problem. Now, the best case scenario is what Vimes says here, that Watchmen are civilians who are trying to keep peace in the most general sense, but he’s had moments where he wanted to be “The Law” with capital letters and take the power and glory that entailed. The point is supposed to be that Sam Vimes knows it’s wrong, and so he doesn’t. He believes that the Watch keep each other accountable, that his people take his orders as suggestions, that they are capable of real good despite the fact that Detritus was about to read the literal Riot Act to a group of civilians and proceed to use deadly force… and only stops because Vimes shows up and puts a stop to it.
Which brings me to this quote that Sybil is thinking when Vimes wakes and decides to read up on chivalry:
He was also reradiating the field of angered innocence that was, to her, part of his essential Vimesness.
And I think that right there hits it on the head. One of Sam Vimes’ core traits is “angered innocence.” He knows that the world is screwed up, but he does believe that something can be done to… well, not fix it, but make it less shitty. Or at least make sure it doesn’t self-destruct. And this is really the credence behind the entire series of Watch books—not Cops Are Great, Actually, but Sometimes People Do the Right Thing. The entire group is basically engineered to showcase that, and I would argue that it’s central to what Pratchett is always getting at as a writer. Sometimes people do the right thing, and on those days, it’s great being alive. The world will continue to grow and change, and maybe one day someone else will be in charge of the Watch who uses it for utterly nefarious purposes, but for right now… we’ve got Vimes and his band of weirdos. And sometimes, when it counts, they do the right thing.
In the midst of this, we’ve got little windows into how people build on their hatreds and fears (and in Janil’s instance, being a normal angry teenager… who just dealt with a hate crime against his family) to elevate these problems into the sort of events that can cause real war and devastation. But pointedly, very few people actually want war. Mob mentality is real, getting swept up in the moment is a danger, but Vimes’ insistence that people consider the cost rather than viewing it as politics is where most people would wind up if given a say. So he’s also standing in for the reader on that count.
As a side note, it’s always been true, but this book is perhaps the best possible showcase of Colon and Nobby being a duo in the fine tradition of British comedy duos like Morecombe and Wise, Cook and Moore, Fry and Laurie, and so on. It also occurs to me that we began the entire Discworld series with a riff on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, which was really Pratchett’s first attempt to design a duo he could use this way—but the sword-and-sorcery fantasy framing of those characters didn’t really lend themselves to his storytelling sensibilities in the long run. It’s just fun to watch authors tinker around with things that they like and finally find their version of a thing.
Asides and little thoughts:
- Love a Sweeney Todd joke in the form of Sweeney Jones not meaning to kill people, just being very bad at shaving.
- I’ve got a long-winded aside about Angua, being that I appreciate both that she’s like a real Sherlock Holmes who can actually detect ridiculous things by virtue of enhanced senses, and also that she’s gotten to the point now where she just bursts out laughing at the frequent macho posturing and accidental entendres that she gets from her colleagues. When Angua asks Carrot why they’re whispering and he points out the room doesn’t allow women, and she says “And no pets. So she’s got me coming and going,” and then has to add, “Don’t look like that. It’s only bad taste if someone else says it.” I could kiss her?
- Vimes is incorrect that vindaloo is “mouth-scalding gristle for macho foreign idiots.” Vindaloo is delicious. Learn to eat spices, Sam.
- Apparently the Klatchian’s Head is based on a pub in Bath with a very similar history (being that the fake head they’ve got swinging by the front door used to be a real head) which… England wtf. I know I shouldn’t be surprised by this, and it’s not like the U.S. has the high ground on anything remotely related, but it’s been a long week, okay.
The woman within had one of those faces that had settled over the years, as though it had been made of butter and then left in the sun.
Behind his thick black mustache Carrot looked hurt and perplexed. “What does a potato want a disguise for?” he said.
It was like being an actor. Only a very good actor was any good at being a bad actor.
Sergeant Colon took his grimy badge out of his pocket and was a little disappointed that it didn’t make a defiant tinkle when he threw it on the table but instead bounced and smashed the water jug.
Already old Fred’s face was creasing up in the soft expression of someone who has been mugged in Memory Lane.
Colon looked awkward, as if the bunched underwear of the past was tangling itself in the crotch of recollection.
After a lifetime of street meals his stomach isn’t set up right. What it craved was little crunchy brown bits, the food group of the gods, and Sybil reliably always left the pan too long on the dragon.
People lined the rails, people who were getting out with what they could carry before they could only get out with what they wore.
Rust’s expression would have preserved meat for a year.
Anyway, what was so special about “special qualities”? Limpets had special qualities.
Next week we read up to:
“Anyone had any baksheesh lately? You can call me Al.”