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The post was an old thing, of course, but it was so old that it had magically become new again.
The post office is an ailing institution belonging to the olden days. New technology overshadows its mind-numbing bureaucracy and the creakingly slow pace of change. You can call them nostalgic, but there are still people who believe in the post: in the beauty of stamps and cast-iron pillar boxes, and the dignity of the postman braving hail, wind and troublesome dogs. And sometimes it's worth standing up for what you believe in...
In which our Hero experiences Hope, the Greatest Gift – The Bacon Sandwich of Regret – Sombre Reflections on Capital Punishment from the Hangman – Famous Last Words – Our Hero Dies – Angels, conversations about – Inadvisability of Misplaced Offers regarding Broomsticks – An Unexpected Ride – A World Free of Honest Men – A Man on the Hop – There is Always a Choice
They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates a man’s mind wonderfully; unfortunately, what the mind inevitably concentrates on is that it is in a body that, in the morning, is going to be hanged.
The man going to be hanged had been named Moist von Lipwig by doting if unwise parents, but he was not going to embarrass the name, in so far as that was still possible, by being hung under it. To the world in general, and particularly on that bit of it known as the death warrant, he was Albert Spangler.
And he took a more positive approach to the situation and had concentrated his mind on the prospect of not being hanged in the morning, and most particularly on the prospect of removing all the crumbling mortar from around a stone in his cell wall with a spoon. So far the work had taken him five weeks, and reduced the spoon to something like a nail file. Fortunately, no one ever came to change the bedding here, or else they would have discovered the world’s heaviest mattress.
It was the large and heavy stone that was currently the object of his attentions, and at some point a huge staple had been hammered into it as an anchor for manacles.
Moist sat down facing the wall, gripped the iron ring in both hands, braced his legs against the stones on either side, and heaved. His shoulders caught fire and a red mist filled his vision but the block slid out, with a faint and inappropriate tinkling noise. Moist managed to ease it away from the hole and peered inside. At the far end was another block, and the mortar around it looked suspiciously strong and fresh. Just in front of it was a new spoon. It was shiny. As he studied it, he heard the clapping behind him. He turned his head, tendons twanging a little riff of agony, and saw several of the warders watching him through the bars.
‘Well done, Mr Spangler! ’ said one of them. ‘Ron here owes me five dollars! I told him you were a sticker! He’s a sticker, I said! ’ ‘You set this up, did you, Mr Wilkinson? ’ said Moist weakly, watching the glint of light on the spoon.
‘Oh, not us, sir. Lord Vetinari’s orders. He insists that all condemned prisoners should be offered the prospect of freedom. ’ ‘Freedom? But there’s a damn great stone through there! ’
‘Yes, there is that, sir, yes, there is that, ’ said the warder. ‘It’s only the prospect, you see. Not actual free freedom as such. Hah, that’d be a bit daft, eh? ’ ‘I suppose so, yes, ’ said Moist. He didn’t say ‘you bastards. ’ The warders had treated him quite civilly this past six weeks, and he made a point of getting on with people. He was very, very good at it. People skills were part of his stock-in-trade; they were nearly the whole of it.
Besides, these people had big sticks. So, speaking carefully, he added: ‘Some people might consider this cruel, Mr Wilkinson. ’
‘Yes, sir, we asked him about that, sir, but he said no, it wasn’t. He said it provided—’ his forehead wrinkled ‘—occ-you-pay-shun-all ther-rap-py, healthy exercise, prevented moping and offered that greatest of all treasures which is Hope, sir. ’ ‘Hope, ’ muttered Moist glumly. ‘Not upset, are you, sir? ’ ‘Upset? Why should I be upset, Mr Wilkinson? ’ ‘Only the last bloke we had in this cell, he managed to get down that drain, sir. Very small man. Very agile. ’
Moist looked at the little grid in the floor. He’d dismissed it out of hand. ‘Does it lead to the river? ’ he said. The warder grinned. ‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you? He was really upset when we fished him out. Nice to see you’ve entered into the spirit of the thing, sir. You’ve been an example to all of us, sir, the way you kept going. Stuffing all the dust in your mattress? Very clever, very tidy. Very neat. It’s really cheered us up, having you in here. By the way, Mrs Wilkinson says ta very much for the fruit basket. Very posh, it is. It’s got kumquats, even! ’ ‘Don’t mention it, Mr Wilkinson. ’ ‘The Warden was a bit green about the kumquats ’cos he only got dates in his, but I told him, sir, that fruit baskets is like life: until you’ve got the pineapple off’f the top you never know what’s underneath. He says thank you, too. ’ ‘Glad he liked it, Mr Wilkinson, ’ said Moist absent-mindedly. Several of his former landladies had brought in presents for ‘the poor confused boy’, and Moist always invested in generosity. A career like his was all about style, after all.
‘On that general subject, sir, ’ said Mr Wilkinson, ‘me and the lads were wondering if you might like to unburden yourself, at this point in time, on the subject of the whereabouts of the place where the location of the spot is where, not to beat about the bush, you hid all that money you stole …? ’
The jail went silent. Even the cockroaches were listening. ‘No, I couldn’t do that, Mr Wilkinson, ’ said Moist loudly, after a decent pause for dramatic effect. He tapped his jacket pocket, held up a finger and winked. The warders grinned back. ‘We understand totally, sir. Now I’d get some rest if I was you, sir, ’cos we’re hanging you in half an hour, ’ said Mr Wilkinson. ‘Hey, don’t I get breakfast? ’ ‘Breakfast isn’t until seven o’clock, sir, ’ said the warder reproachfully. ‘But, tell you what, I’ll do you a bacon sandwich. ’cos it’s you, Mr Spangler. ’
With all the puns, strange names and quick-fire jokes about captive letters demanding to be delivered, it's easy to miss how cross about injustice Terry Pratchett can be. This darkness and concrete morality sets his work apart from imitators of his English Absurd school of comic fantasy.
Like many of Pratchett's best comic novels, it is a book about redemption ... There's a moral toughness here, which is one of the reasons why Pratchett is never merely frivolous.
- Time Out
His world, increasingly subtle and thoughtful, has become as allegorical and satirical as a painting by Bosch ... Pratchett's joy in his creations, in jokes, puns, the idea of letters and language itself makes GOING POSTAL one of the best expressions of his unstoppable flow of comic invention
- The Times
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