This week, we are all subject to the whims of Mr. Fusspot, and why would we have it any differently.
A week previous, a man named Heretofore is nearly blackmailed by a master craftsman who has made him a duplicate of Lord Vetinari’s signet ring, and has the craftsman killed (though he doesn’t want to do it). Presently, Cosmo Lavish offers to buy Mr. Fusspot, which Moist refuses. He heads to the palace to find out if Lord Vetinari somehow made this happen, which the Patrician resents. Vetinari explains that Topsy did Moist a favor and that he needs to start his new job and make the city money. Moist heads to the bank and finds Sacharissa Crisplock waiting to interview him. He tells her that he plans to get rid of the gold and spruce the place up. Then he meets the canine chefs for Mr. Fusspot, Aimsbury and Peggy. Aimsbury can’t hear the word “garlic” without throwing a knife and speaking Quirmian before he comes back to himself. Then Moist is taken to his new apartments, a large and lovely space, and given his “master of the Royal Mint” hat, which is a sad, worn black top hat. Moist thinks about how to fix the bank and realizes that value is in the city itself. He starts making plans. The person who wanted Vetinari’s ring forged turns out to be Cosmo Lavish, who is trying to become Vetinari. Heretofore has been employed to get old items belonging to Vetinari, while Cranberry kills anyone who might give away the plot.
Adora Belle’s mining operation appears to have been successful in retrieving many more golems, puzzling the dwarfs. The Lavishes attend Topsy’s funeral, and Cosmo is given a hard time for “his side” of the family losing the bank. He realizes that Lipwig’s lack of history is the key to solving this problem, and so is Mr. Bent, provided he can get the man on his side. Moist takes the first dollar note to Tenth Egg Street to try it out on the merchants there and see if they’ll buy into the concept. They seem to like it, but still have difficulty with the idea of a bank not backed by gold, so Moist knows he still has more work to do. He gets into a cab in Losing Street containing Cosmo’s sister, Pucci, trying to catch him in a “honey trap”-looking situation. He jumps out the window, with Colon and Nobby on the street watching. Nobby tells Fred that no one will bet against Moist in his usual book for the Watch—they all think he’s going to win. Back at the bank, Gladys almost kills Moist by trying to give him a back rub, and the Times believes Moist is just the man to run the mint. A few people want to close their accounts after seeing the article… but hundreds more want to open them. Pucci Lavish tries to disrupt the scene, deriding Moist’s new bank notes; this ignites a bidding war to buy the one she has.
Mr. Bent doesn’t like what Moist is doing and doesn’t understand what’s needed of him in this new world. They interview people for loans; Moist lends a small about to Dibbler and a very large amount to Harry King, who is looking to consolidate his businesses. Mr. Bent is besides himself at how Moist is running things, but Moist points out that they’ve taken in a lot of money today, mostly from people he’d consider too poor to do business at the bank. He goes to Temper and Spools to ask if they can start making bills, but Mr. Spools doesn’t think they can manage it without major issues in forging and the like… not without the artist who Moist testified against for forging stamps, who’s about to be hanged. Cosmo goes to visit Mr. Bent at Mrs. Cake’s boarding house where the clerk lives and asks him to do something about Moist. At night, Moist steals a Watch uniform and takes paperwork forms he’s stolen from Spools’ office to get the forger out of prison. The man, by the name of Owlswick Jenkins, kicks him in the groin and runs off. Moist thinks on it and figures that the man’s a bit off and has probably gone back home. He find Jenkins in his old place, painting again. When Jenkins threatens to kill himself with poisonous paint rather than go back to jail, Moist talks to him of angels.
Entering through a secret door that only Igor knows about, Moist asks Igor to give Jenkins a shave and haircut to change his appearance. They change his name to Exorbit Clamp, and Moist asks the forger to design the first note, telling him all the various bits he’ll need to render (because the man can’t come up with it on his own). Moist heads to bed and is summoned to see Vetinari in the morning; the Patrician insists that Jenkins was hanged and Moist wonders if he didn’t accidentally steal the forger Vetinari had intended to keep for himself. Vetinari shows Moist his signet ring and notes all the strange deaths occurring around him lately, but Moist can’t figure out why any of it should be happening. The Patrician also asks Moist to lend the city a half million dollars. Igor helps the new Mr. Clamp store his old bad memories and Clamp has already designed the new note. On the floor of the bank, Moist runs into a figure from his past by the name of Cribbins. He gives the men in the Mint their new deal, where they look after the new printing press fellows from Temper and Spools and get nice new uniforms. They agree to the deal, to Bent’s dismay. Adora Belle arrives and takes Moist to the Unseen University to look inside the Cabinet of Curiosity, a thing that wizards wish she didn’t know they had. Bigger on the inside and full of about eleven dimensions, the cabinet once showed Adora Belle an ancient golem foot that matches the markings on the ones she just found…
Not saying that it’s surprising, but it’s definitely bemusing how many of the Ankh-Morpork-centered stories have several arms branching from the main action, one of which is inevitably: Someone is enacting a poorly-conceived plot against Lord Vetinari that he may or may not know everything about, and while said plot should be about taking control of the city, there’s frequently some unhinged aspect to it that involves people wanting to somehow sap/rob/absorb his innate powers through increasingly desperate and hilarious means.
You know, we started out normal, with him getting shot. And then the slightly more involved poisoning plot. And then he basically deposes himself for a bit to stop a war from happening while Old Money guys grouse about it. And then a bunch of one-percenters find a guy who can easily pass for him by daylight and try to frame him for murder and embezzlement using the imposter. And now another one of those one-percenters has decided that he can somehow commune with the man through his belongings and then assume his power and abilities and position? Gotta love the escalation; it makes my heart so happy. And it’s the perfect sort of distraction against all the more serious workings of Moist figuring out how to make money… happen.
It’s second nature in the art of the con, but there’s such an ease and preternatural likability to Moist when he’s working that feels almost superhuman? We start the book and he’s more than a little bit pathetic, all the shine rubbed off him, and the instant that his brain starts turning over, the charisma reasserts itself at brute force. I can’t really think of another character who elicits that sort of reaction from me: I like him better when he’s working, when his back is up against the wall.
We get the rudimentary economics conversation when Moist goes on about potatoes being worth more than gold, which is a good place to start, and then a slightly more involved economics lesson as he starts to piece together the city’s value and the need to move away from gold. But again, money is being made fun in this context because it’s part of his con. Even Moist is aware of how he’s manipulating the system and people to his advantage, and as readers, we want to see him succeed because we already know him. You had to do the stories in this order—if Vetinari had started Moist out at the bank before the post office, it wouldn’t be as enjoyable of a ride.
With the newly minted Mr. Clamp, Moist basically gets his own Leonard de Quirm—someone he can rely on to create the complicated mechanisms to make his plans work. (Igor is helping, of course, because Igors always do. They are one of the greatest gifts Pratchett gave himself, an easy solution to any number of narrative problems because there’s very little they can’t figure out.) But we’re currently in the thick of it, and there are key tenets to how Moist operates that are true in cons, in business, and in life in general: Making something look good is half the battle to getting people invested; if change happens quickly enough, it doesn’t seem like change at all; being a bit “real” with people will always help them to trust you.
Moist pointedly gives his first two loans to the sort of people that make the city run, but on very different scales: Dibbler and Harry King. The bank wouldn’t have let either of them set foot inside before he took over, and the bank was wrong. But changing the system doesn’t mean it’s better now in this particular instance—it only means that it can take advantage of more people. Where that leads us will come clear as we continue…
Asides and little thoughts
- Yet again, the fatphobia in this book gets pretty egregious between the descriptions of Cosmo and Pucci. It feels repetitive to keep noting it, but it’s one of the few things Pratchett does that I can’t help but find disappointing. There’s comedy enough in the fact that Cosmo is forcing a ring that’s too small for him onto his hand! But there’s always this extra layer to the avarice with fatness that gets used, and they’re plain cheap shots (that are obvious to boot), particularly with how often it comes up.
- I think this is the first time it’s confirmed that Quirmians speak French? So Quirm is France, for all intents and purposes. Which is somehow weirder to me than all the other not-other-country parallels on the Disc.
- As a person with ADHD, it’s fairly obvious that Pucci Lavish has it. The way she bounces between topics is, uh, reminiscent, shall we say, of talking to my mother.
- Again, it’s so enjoyable to get character’s opinions on characters from other books, and Moist noting that William de Worde is likely the same age as him but writes editorials “that suggested his bum was stuffed with tweed” is a beautiful thing.
- In the annals of Vetinari’s carefully curated preferences toward nothingness, eating the egg white off your hard boiled egg while leaving the yolk is a new level of blandness, I salute him. (And also agree that the grain gravel Drumknott eats is worse.)
- I couldn’t find any evidence that the phrase “drop-dead gorgeous” actually came from people painting their faces with arsenic to look paler, as Moist suggests to Owlswick Jenkins. People did paint their faces that way, I just couldn’t find a correlation to the term drop-dead gorgeous. I’m assuming this was done on purpose, as a sort of anachronistic malaphor, for lack of a better way of putting it?
Next week we’ll read Chapters 7-9!