This is the twenty-fifth Discworld novel to spring from Terry Pratchett's fertile imagination, and that begs the question: after such a long run of books can Pratchett still cut the mustard? Can he still tickle the humour bone and induce the giggles, guffaws, bellylaughs and outright shrieks of hysterical merriment that earlier books in the series have produced?
On the evidence of The Truth, Pratchett is starting to flag, but only in one area. I mean, what kind of a fun title is The Truth? It's a bit, well, bald, threadbare even, lacking the punning spark of, say, Wyrd Sisters, Feet of Clay or Carpe Jugulum. Descriptive, though, I'll give it that.
Other than that minor quibble, the new volume is very much Pratchett at his hilarious best. The Truth is set in Ankh-Morpork, but manages the difficult task of introducing an entirely new element into that over-ripe, festering and much-beloved city. A chance encounter on the road at night connects William De Worde (younger son of the aristocracy, trying to make his own way in the world of letters) with a gang of dwarves with an interesting innovation: a printing press with movable type. Out of this fortuitous mixture comes Ankh-Morpork's first newspaper. De Worde finds he has a natural ability for turning up stories. Then he finds that stories sometimes won't stay on the page, but will come around to the office intent on damaging the journalist responsible.
Like all great journalists, De Worde has a certain amount of luck. In his case, it is that the first big story to break as soon as the presses begin to roll is one involving the Patrician, who has seemingly gone crazy, tried to murder his secretary and make off with huge amounts of gold. Just the kind of mystery for an idealistic young seeker of the truth to get his teeth into. Unfortunately, the story also involves a pair of homicidal gangsters (think Quentin Pulp Fiction Tarantino), intent on finishing their job and covering their tracks, with young De Worde's prying beginning to make life difficult for them. Throw in a reformed vampire suicidally interested in flash iconography, Gaspode the talking dog and a missing witness of the canine variety, plus Foul Ol' Ron and his mates, and you get a ripe and productive mix, with all sorts of interesting possibilities.
With The Truth, Terry Pratchett has succeeded both in writing an excellently plotted tale of mystery and murder (as well as an hilarious take on the newspaper business in which he once worked) but also rejuvenated Ankh-Morpork as a site for further adventures. Make no mistake, we won't have heard the last of William De Worde and his Ankh-Morpork Times crew. There are a million stories in the Big City, after all, and I don't think De Worde will stop until they are all told.
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© John D Owen 4 November 2000