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Book cover art by Scott McKowan (left).
Review © 2007 by Thomas M. Wagner.

In my parents' small hometown, there was a short-lived but nicely appointed museum on Texas' early settler history, where an inordinate portion of the display space was given over to old currency. Paper money, as I'm sure everyone knows, was originally just scrip. Your boss or foreman or C.O. or whomever would give you a slip of paper stating what you were owed, which you would then take to a bank to trade in for real money of real worth, i.e.: shiny bits of metal. It wasn't long before people just began trading the paper money itself. And I can tell you, some of these old bills (many in truly odd denominations, like 12½¢) were gorgeous to behold, with elaborately engraved portraits, cityscapes and historical tableaux. It's as if the artists commissioned to design them were, to a man, frustrated wannabe Rembrandts whose life ambition was to have space in the Louvre and were doing the next best thing. Seems odd to me, the idea of going to a general store and handing over the equivalent of a miniature post-Renaissance masterwork in exchange for a sack of potatoes. But as Terry Pratchett points out here, if you're stranded on a desert island, which of the two really has value?

Making Money is, as you might have guessed by now, all about the money. By all rights, no series that has gone on for over thirty volumes should continue to produce stories this good. But Pratchett avoids the law of diminishing returns because there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of topics out there in the world to be satirized up one side and down the other. Also, he's Terry Pratchett. The two factors go together well.

That money makes people crazy is not exactly a stop-the-presses revelation, but it is a funny one, especially when what makes some of them crazy is the fact that it's so darn purty. Moist von Lipwig, the perpetually put-upon ex-grifter turned postmaster from the Nebula-nominated Going Postal (incidentally one of the best Discworlds ever), is back in the protagonist's seat this time. And scheming Lord Vetinari cannot leave him alone. If it weren't enough that Moist was drafted into reforming Anhk-Morpork's floundering postal service — which he did with dazzling success, turning it into a model of hyper-efficiency — now Vetinari wants him to fix the city's Bank. The Bank is currently owned by a matriarch of the Lavish family, who feud amongst themselves with such ferocity that even the Medicis would be scandalized.

When the old lady dies, leaving her 51% ownership of the bank to her dog, Mr. Fusspot, and Moist in care of the dog, Moist must juggle an absurd number of pins to improve the bank's efficiency, keep it in the black, the rest of the Lavishes away from it all, and his head out of any nearby noose. One of his clever ideas — as a form of it, stamps, worked for the post office — is to reduce the bank's fixation on shiny bits of metal (gold) through the introduction of paper currency...

There are far too many plot intricacies to spoil here, so I'll shut up. But Pratchett's wonderful supporting cast deserves mention. Not only do we see such fan favorites as the City Watch (with Vimes, Carrot, Nobby and Colon all reporting for duty), but new characters like bank manager Mr. Bent, obsessed with numbers and hopelessly repressed in all other departments; Cosmo Lavish, whose own obsession with Vetinari is just a little unhealthy (no, not that way); Moist's golem maid, Gladys, who makes really big, flat sandwiches; and Hubert, who's set up in the bank's basement with his own Igor, no less, tinkering with a primitive computer designed to model the city's economy (and which is based on a real one from back in the day) are all as sad, silly, deranged and just plain riotous as anyone in Pratchett's regular dramatis personae. Many scenes in the bank itself have a distinctly Terry Gilliam/Brazil quality, and I will maintain till my dying day a Discworld movie directed by that other Terry remains the film industry's biggest missed opportunity.

We critics are never happy unless we get to be jerks and gripe about something. So I will say that in the final analysis I found Making Money a little less tight and satisfying than Going Postal, if only for the fact that in the last couple of chapters leading to its climax, it gets a little chaotic, not just in terms of everything going on (which is just fine) but in narrative structure as well. But I think the majority of Pratchett's most fervent fan base won't be especially bothered, and will see fit to notch the rating upwards a star. With ol' Terry maintaining this level of consistency and inspiration over so many books and so many years, I'll bet my bottom dollar he'll keep showing us the money for another thirty titles, and beyond.