Continuing my occasional series as I work my way through the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s delightful Discworld series, one book at a time.
Today’s entry is the 33rd book, Going Postal.
First Appearances: Moist von Lipwig, Miss Bella Adora Deerheart
Introduced to Discworld: effective postal service, postage stamps
Plot: Confidence man Moist von Lipwig has been caught and is about to be hanged in Ankh-Morpork. As it is, an angel intervenes. The angel is the Patrician, Lord Havelock Vetinari, and he offers Moist a choice: run the city’s post office or die.
After a foolish attempt to make a run for it, where Moist learned he had a golem for a parole officer, a being who will neither eat, sleep, or stop until he has Moist back in custody, Moist gets to work and finds a post office where nothing has been delivered for decades and the building is full of piles of mail. The clacks service, the Discworld version of the Internet, has been taking the mail’s place, but the monopoly running the service has been having frequent breakdowns, deaths on the job, and many internal financial issues caused by a board of directors more interested in profit than reliability. Can Moist beat the clacks and revive the post office without losing his head?
Commentary: Maybe it’s because I was so disappointed by Tiffany Aching, but this novel seemed like a return to form for Pratchett. Moist von Lipwig will continue to appear in a few more novels, and makes for a fun protagonist. He’s a con man who knows about the power of showmanship. Seeing the problems the clacks company, the Grand Trunk, is having, he takes full advantage of it to make outlandish gestures that gets the post office up and running again, initially only with a single old man and a younger fellow who’s crazy about pins and maybe also a little crazy. That would be Mr. Groat and Stanley.
Moist also gets the ultimate, for him, love interest in Bella Adora Dearheart, a chain-smoking cynic who sees right through him at first glance. While Moist can fool most people into believing his claims, she is a completely different story. They go well together as a result. She also knows how to hire lots of golems, who in turn make the ultimate post men. They sort the mail, deliver it without a worry, and only stop one day a week for a customary day of rest. Having nearly indestructible employees who don’t stop for any reason makes for a good business practice.
On the other side is the Grand Trunk, led by CEO Reacher Gilt, who dresses like a pirate and may be something of a corporate one. Moist immediately sees someone who is a lot like him when the two meet, only Reacher is better at the con, and a lot less moral about it. Moist knows he’s a crook, but he has convinced himself he doesn’t hurt others. He’s wrong about that (one of his cons cost Bella her job at a bank before the two met), but Gilt doesn’t care how many people die as he runs the clacks half-heartedly at best.
And maybe it’s a little topical considering 2016 events, but the fact that the headquarters of the Grand Trunk was in a building called Tump Tower did jump out at me a bit.
Now, obviously, Moist will win the day. Pratchett doesn’t write novels where his comedic protagonists lose. But Bella makes an observation about Moist that he doesn’t believe: that in the end, the only person he’s really conned is himself, and he’s a better man than he believes. That’s a nice thought. No wonder Moist doesn’t buy it.
On another note, Pratchett divided this novel into chapters, not something he does too often outside his kids books for this series. But it wouldn’t be Pratchett without a joke in there for the observant reader. There is no Chapter 8. Instead, he has a Chapter 7A and then skips right to 9.
NEXT BOOK: Trolls and dwarves have been at war with each other for centuries, and when a prominent dwarf agitator winds up dead in Ankh-Morpork, it is up to the City Watch to solve the case before things get really ugly. Be back soon for Thud!