Making Money, by Terry Pratchett

A clever romp through a weird world of finance, sex toys and lecherous ghosts
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The Independent Culture

The latest novel in the Discworld cycle is so on-the-nose and up-to-the-minute in its subject than you can't help speculating that Pratchett has been booking restaurant tables very near Mervyn King and passing notes saying: "Northern Rock in a bit of bother, eh?" before standing outside branches advising account-holders not to panic. Yes, Making Money is about banking.

In Going Postal, Pratchett approached the seemingly uncongenial subject of the founding of the post office in Discworld fashion, digging up historical truths that seem more absurd than the usual author's farcical inventions. Making Money is a direct sequel, which carries over its protagonist – former confidence man Moist von Lipwig, who is blackmailed by self-described tyrant Lord Vetinari into accepting seemingly dull but actually dangerous public office – and plot threads about golems, stamps and avoided executions.

Moist picked up a fiancée in the previous book which, as often in the series, is a bit of a drawback as the mostly sexless Discworld saga has little use for an ongoing relationship. So golem-rights activist Adora Belle Dearheart is packed off on an expedition for the first two-thirds and comes back into the plot when it is so busy she can't trip it up with sloppy kissy stuff.

However, Pratchett experiments with some mildly salacious business involving a lecherous ghost who discovers pole-dancing establishments and a late bank chairman's collection of tactfully described erotic aids. The book delves into arcana such as the gold standard, the invention of bank-notes, economic modelling and the role of the press in furthering fiscal chaos, but it's also a swashbuckling romp with a vivid, eccentric urban character. By now, Ankh-Morpork, Discworld's capital city, is equal parts Shakespeare, Dumas and Dickens rather than cobbled-together Tolkien and Robert E Howard.

Series followers get recurring characters in walk-ons, but this novel works as a stand-alone. Pratchett remains a consistently clever, charming and funny voice, and if this is one of his more standard efforts it's still appealing, with wry observations, smartened-up old jokes and enough real danger to edge the farce with terror. The book's villain is especially successful, a threat because he's absurd rather than a sham baddie. And there's enough real magic between the parodic bits to establish the series as "proper fantasy" rather than simple piss-take.

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