For the past century or so and uneasy truce has existed between dwarves, vampires, trolls and werewolves in Uberwald, a large part of the discworld that is slowly modernising. Now a political plot is unfolding that threatens to destabilise the pact. Commander Sam Vimes, head of the Watch in Ankh-Morpork, has been dispatched to maintain diplomatic relations and attend the coronation of the Low King. He’s accompanied by assassin aide, and Cheery Littlebottom and Detritus, a dwarf and troll who have moved to the city and rebelled against the social conventions of their homeland. Diplomacy was never one of Vimes’ strong points and it’s not long before he is up to his neck in intrigue, theft and murder that threatens to destabilise the whole region. It soon becomes a race against time to foil the plot before all hell breaks loose.
It’s pretty difficult to write a summary of a Pratchett book and to sell the idea of the Discworld novels to those not interested in the comic fantasy genre. Once you try them though they are quite compulsive, which is why for a number of years Terry Pratchett was Britain’s best-selling author (he sold the most number of books of any author for the 1990s) with a reader base from 8 to 80 plus. At its heart, The Fifth Elephant is a political thriller meets police procedural. As usual, the characterization is excellent; Pratchett manages to create clearly defined characters with full personalities in just a few words. It took me a little while to get into the story, as the various characters and plotlines are moved into position and set up – and there are a lot of characters running through a number of threads – but after the initial phase, the book hurtles along with plenty of action and intrigue. The story is well plotted and Pratchett effortlessly ties all the threads together. After a slow start, as usual, a very entertaining read. Perhaps not the best of the Commander Vimes books, and perhaps not a one to start with (given most of the characters are first introduced in early books), but if you want a police story with a difference, this is one to try.