“Murder was in fact a fairly uncommon event in Ankh-Morpork, but there were a lot of suicides. Walking in the night-time alleyways of The Shades was suicide. Asking for a short in a dwarf bar was suicide. Saying ‘Got rocks in your head?’ to a troll was suicide. You could commit suicide very easily, if you weren’t careful.” ― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms
Men at arms brings things back to the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. And what a story to do it with. I am not going to bother beating about the bush or leaving it to the end to leave my overall opinions on this because. It’s pretty simple – I love it. This is the second or third time I have read this book, and yet somehow didn’t remember as much of it as I expected to. It’s great fun, it brings more of Sam Vimes’ character to the fore, alongside those of Nobby Nobbs, Fred Colon and Carrot the not-so dwarf. We also meet another City Watch regular in the making, werewolf Angua.
So, to the story. The Night Watch has expanded and diversified at the instruction of Lord Vetinari to now include a dwarf, troll and a werewolf. A spate of mysterious crimes including theft of an unknown item and some grisly and hard-to-explain “suicides” (read: murders) spread throughout the city, all as Captain Vimes prepares to relinquish his position in the Night Watch as he prepares for his impending nuptials to Lady Sybil Ramkin.
Deceit, political wrangling and a nefarious criminal or two make for a good old fashioned whodunit story. I love the police procedural feel that it has alongside the now well-honed Pratchett humour. But it also brings in yet more connections to reality. Pressure from certain important members of society on the Patrician tried to divert the tenacious Vimes is not all that far fetched. History has shown too often that power, or money, greases the wheels of society, if not the palms. The inclusive, multicultural direction taken by the City Watch just feels so familiar with the direction the world has taken of late, as does, sadly the tensions between the trolls and dwarves.
There are no dragons, witches, or wizards here. And this book doesn’t need them. Yes, the Discworld is a fantasy series, but this story is so enjoyable, even without the stereotypical fantasy tropes. It does feature dwarves, trolls and a werewolf, but they aren’t what this story is about. To me, even less than the City Watch as a whole, this is the story of Sam Vimes. Who he is and how he works comes through in buckets. And running through it all, Men At Arms tells the story of how the topsy turvy city that is Ankh-Morpork works, where it’s come from, and a glimmer of where it might be headed.
I love the nods to the plethora of TV shows in the police and crime genre that Pratchett employs throughout the book. As a fan of crime and mystery, along with fantasy and comedy, the fusion of these normally very different themes is refreshing and funny. I love the growth of the City Watch characters, and the city itself seems to really come to life in the writing of this book. I think this is my favourite book in the Discworld series so far.