Shortsighted management has forced another "downsizing". This time the victim of layoff is Death himself, "retired" by the Auditors. He does his job efficiently and he doesn't sass the boss. He's just become "too involved" with those due to receive attention from his infinitely sharp scythe. The Auditors want a firmer hand on the reaping blade. On the street with time on his hands, Death decides he's going to spend it. Wandering the Discworld, he "gets his feet under the table" as hired man at Miss Flitworth's farm. Although a bit confused about eating and sleeping, he's able to respond with resolute affirmation when she asks, "Can you use a scythe?" He demonstrates a harvesting technique only Pratchett could devise.
With Death no longer performing his role, strange events result. Unconfined, the life force manifests itself in bizarre ways. Death, visible to wizards, fails to arrive at an appointment. In consequence, Windle Poons is subjected to various indignities. His colleagues have a prejudice about zombies. Not having actually died, Windle decides to "get a life". Over a century of breathing doesn't necessarily mean you've been living, and Windle, like Death, decides to see something of the [Disc]world. His colleagues, uncertain as to why Windle's still upright and subjected to some mild indignities of their own, seek the cause of unusual manifestations.
If you're new to the Discworld, all this must sound pretty grotesque. Death "fired" only to become a reaper on a spinster's farm? Wizards who can see him and know precisely when he's due? Take heart, this isn't a bleak version of the Merlin legend, nor a Stephen King horror story. It's Terry Pratchett, a writer with an unmatched talent for looking at the world we live in. He peers deeply at how life works. Then with countless deft twists, restructures our globe into a flat Disc. The Disc's filled with novel ideas and even more unusual people, but on second glance all seem terribly familiar. Death isn't a killer, for example. He's only there to collect lives when they're due to end. Unlike the tax man, he only arrives once, and he's terribly, terribly good at his job.
To those familiar with Pratchett, this book should receive high marks. All of Ankh-Morpork's finest are here - even Sergeant Colon makes an appearance. While enlarging on the cameos Death's played in other Discworld books, Pratchett nearly lets Miss Flitworth walk away with this one. But it's Sal Lifton who does that - the Small Child who recognizes Bill Door as a "skellington" as she ponders how he can eat or sleep. For it's Sal who personifies why Death's been put out to pasture [sorry!]. What that implies about Death's philosophy of life [sorry, again!] and how all this reflects Pratchett's own views becomes vividly clear when the "new hire" appears. As with many modern managers, the Auditors have acquired a labour saving appliance.
Pratchett's great genius is many-leveled. A light skim of any of his books is to experience high mirth rates. His talent for quirky description and one liners you seek ways to use in conversation is matchless. But a few months later, Reaper Man may arrive unbidden back in your hand. "There's something else", you may muse, going back to seek it. More jewels will be discovered, the witticisms skipped over revealing things of deeper value. You will then discover why this reviewer considers Pratchett as one of today's most valuable philosophers. And who rejoices seeing his children with PTerry in hand. If there's hope for survival of this species, it will be people like Pratchett conveying human values to people who need it most - the next generation. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]