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A Discworld Whodunnit. Who's murdering harmless old men? Who's poisoning the Patrician? As autumn fogs hold Ankh-Morpork in their grip, the City Watch have to track down a murderer who can't be seen. Maybe the golems know something - but the solemn men of clay, who work all day and night and are never any trouble to anyone, have started to commit suicide...It's not as if the Watch hasn't got problems of its own. There's a werewolf suffering from Pre-Lunar Tension. Corporal Nobbs is hobnobbing with the nobs, and there's something really strange about the new dwarf recruit, especially his earrings and eyeshadow. Who can you trust when there are mobs on the streets and plotters in the dark and all the clues point the wrong way? In the gloom of the night, Watch Commander Sir Samuel Vimes finds that the truth might not be out there at all. It may be in amongst the words in the head. A chilling tale of poison and pottery.

The 19th Discworld novel and the third in the City Watch theme. It has one of the more conventional plots of the series, but executes it very well in the inimitable Pratchett style.

The newly boosted and renewed Watch from Men at Arms is back, and Vimes is settling into his role as Commander and a knight. But the life of a Watchman is never boring. Two mysterious murders - one in the dwarf community and one in the ecclesiastical - happen one after another. Are they linked? Perhaps to a golem - those stolid ceramic workers who have no voice? And are any of them associated with Lord Vetinari's sudden illness, possibly by poison? And is Nobby Nobbs really (gasp!) an Earl?

The answers are out there, swirling somewhere in the autumn fog of Ankh-Morpork...

Preceded by Maskerade, followed by Hogfather. Preceded in the Watch series by Men at Arms, followed by Jingo.

Contains examples of:

  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: After being told he's of noble birth and after drinking a fair bit, Nobby briefly becomes too pompous for his own good in the Mended Drum. Only the presence of Colon saves him from getting a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Actual Pacifist: Golems can't hurt people. Not intentionally, at least. Carrot makes this point in his own vivid way when faced with an anti-golem mob.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The golem king was driven insane by too many words (hopes, expectations, directions) put in his head by his creators, many of which were mutually exclusive. Averted by Dorfl, who has only one directive.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: When Carrot introduces Cheery and Angua, he invites Angua to show Cheery how her dwarfish is coming along. Angua, according to Carrot, says "small delightful mining tool of feminine nature." Given that Cheery is a female dwarf, this could actually be a rather apt description of her. Carrot, unaware of Cheery's gender at this point, takes this as a mistake, but the behavior of Cheery and Angua in the scene, followed by them discussing Cheery's gender in private shortly after, implies that, while she may have not chosen the correct words, Angua was able to detect Cheery's sex through her werewolf sense of smell and meant to say something along the lines of "you're a woman?"
  • Anchovies Are Abhorrent: Vimes fears Vetinari may be getting poisoned by something he's eating, so he orders the Patrician a pizza from a random takeaway. Upper-class Vetinari has never even seen a pizza before, let alone expressed a toppings preference, yet Vimes specifically mentions it's got no anchovies.
  • Arrow Catch: Industrial-strength version. Dorfl catches one of the Piecemaker's spear-sized iron bolts when Nobby fires it at the golem in a panic. The bolt half-melts from the friction and winds up as a crimped metal ribbon between Dorfl's fingers, plus a thick bulb of metal squashed up against the side of the golem's fist.
  • Arson Murder And Life Saving: After Vimes has done his best to upset every single important person in the city, Vetinari is forced to give him... a raise.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: Used in-character when Vimes speculates that Vetinari's tableware could've been made of arsenic, and Cheery explains that a spoon that dissolved instantly in the soup would probably have aroused suspicion.
  • Artistic License – History: In-universe example. Nobby Nobbs explained that no-one wanted to play Stoneface in the play "on account of him being on the losing side". Vimes points out that Stoneface won; his Ironheads ruled the city for a year. Nobby explains that this is because the Peeled Nuts felt that Stoneface shouldn't have, being outnumbered ten to one, and because he killed a king.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Early on, an assassin tries taking a shot at Vimes while he's shaving, only to fall foul of Vimes' special preparations to the Ramkin Estate. Vimes has also done up the area around his office, so that no-one human can sneak in and murder him. It becomes a Running Gag in subsequent books.
  • Ass Shove: After Dorfl is freed, he visits his previous masters and exacts (non-lethal) ironic revenge on them. The ones at the poultry merchant's and the pork butcher's involves stuffing apprentices with various fruits and vegetables. Guess where.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Vimes reminisces about the old days when policing was mostly about watchmen and thieves locked in hot pursuit — and notes with pride that the thieves never caught him.
  • Batman Gambit: As usual, Vetinari figures out what's going on and how the conspirators are trying to kill him almost immediately after the first attempt. While everyone else is scrambling to figure it out, Vetinari pretends to still be ill, because the kinds of trouble Vimes will rile up on in his path to solve the crime will make Vetinari's potential future enemies think twice about crossing him again.
    • Deconstructed with Dragon's plan. It requires a number of things that are totally out of direct control to succeed, all of which fail miserably because Dragon smugly assumed the absolute worst of everybody. Of particular note is that he assumed Vimes would immediately fall off the wagon if he found an expensive bottle of brandy in his desk and didn't think that maybe such a thing would make him extremely suspicious and start looking for other evidence of a Frame-Up.
  • Big Damn Hero: Dorfl charging in to stop the Golem King from killing Angua and Carrot.
  • Bile Fascination: In-Universe, Nobby Nobbs is so vile he fascinates the upper class. It's labelled charisn'tma by one of them.
  • Blind and the Beast: Mrs. Gammage and the regulars at Biers. A variation: she's not blind, just senile, and this used to be a regular pub called The Crown.
    Angua: Well, I heard that last month someone broke into her hovel and stole some of her stuff...
    Cheery: That doesn't sound helpful.
    Angua: ...and it was all returned the next day and a couple of thieves were found in the Shades with not a drop of blood left in their bodies. You know, you get told a lot of bad things about the undead, but you never hear about the marvellous work they do in the community.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: The gods hit Dorfl with one when he professes his atheism. (Vimes is aware enough to back away to a safe distance.) It doesn't harm him, and he gently reprimands them for not producing a logical argument for their existence.
  • Booze Flamethrower: Nobbs is guzzling expensive brandy and smoking a fancy cigar when he learns that people want him to become King. He does a Spit Take so epic that Booze Flamethrower is inadequate to describe it. Try Booze Rocket, or Booz-ooka, if you will, since he manages to propel himself into the wall behind him.
  • Born of Magic: Golems in the Discworld are humanoids made of clay, who are given life by means of a "chem", a scroll of holy words, inserted into the head. At the time of this book, the secret of making new ones is almost lost, known only to a dwindling band of priests of an obscure, dying religion. But suddenly a new one arises with an improperly written chem...
  • Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Dorfl is not only the first golem to join the Watch, he's also the first to be able to choose to do so, as Carrot freed him from his Servant Race status by including his bill of sale along with his chem. What is more important to the rest of the world is that he's the first ever golem to have a voice, as he was rebuilt with a mouth. The religious community are particularly unhappy with it, as their usual trump-card argument from the gods is entirely ineffective on a golem made of clay.
  • Brick Joke:
    • When Carrot is handling some of Vimes's paperwork, there's a note from a Mister Catterail, demanding there be less patrolling by dwarfs and such, with Mr. Catterail claiming Vetinari is a personal friend. Near the end when Dorfl is going through the city setting everything free, Mr. Catterail demands help from the Watchmen, telling them their commander is a personal friend of his. He says this to the commander of the Watch himself, who is entirely unimpressed.
    • When Vimes is presented with the evidence that Nobby is the Earl of Ankh, he retorts that given the amount of stuff Nobby's family have stolen over the years, he's probably got enough heirlooms to prove that he's also the Duke of Pseudopolis, the Seriph of Klatch and the Dowager Duchess of Quirm. In The Stinger, Nobby proves him right: he has three gold lockets, a coronet, and a tiara.
    • From Nobby's very first introduction in Guards! Guards!, it's been said that he carries around paperwork confirming his humanity, though several people have questioned whether or not it's forged. We finally get to see it when Nobby needs to get into a party.
    I, after hearing evidence from a number of experts, including Mrs. Slipdry the midwife, certify that the balance of probability is that the bearer of this document, C. W. St. John Nobbs, is a human being.
    Signed, Lord Vetinari.
    • A twofer: Carrot tastes some white powder in a bag, a practice which has been discontinued ever since Flint's misadventure (see Fingertip Drug Analysis), and Igneous first helps the Watch to keep them away from hollowed-out statues. The second time the Watch visit, Sergeant Detritus is with them, and he immediately asks about the statues, oh whoops, he's broken one, hey what's this powdery stuff in it? Detritus uses the taste-test method to intimidate Igneous into helping with the Watch's inquiries. Once Igneous is gone, Detritus asks whether there really are spiders around wurble wurble sclup.
  • Brutish Bulls: Rogers the Bulls, while not particularly vicious or aggressive, is easily frustrated and confused and is prone to charging things.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: What makes Vimes really angry is that the villain doesn't even know or care who the victims, Mrs Easy and her grandson, were, because they weren't "important". Carrot shares Vimes' feelings, while being more restrained in showing them.
    Carrot: You caused the death of an old lady and a baby in Cockbill Street.
    Carrot: I was almost feeling sorry for you, right up to that point. You're a lucky man: We got to you before Commander Vimes did.
  • The Caligula:
    • Lorenzo the Kind, last king of Ankh-Morpork, beheaded by Vimes' ancestor. All we hear for definite is that he was... very fond of children. "Machines" are also alluded to.
    • Mad Lord Snapcase, who was the Patrician before Vetinari, apparently appointed a horse as one of his advisors, like the Trope Namer. It’s pointed out that said horse was still a better official than the other city councilors at that point: a vase of flowers, a pile of sand and three people who had been beheaded.
  • Can't Use Stairs: The Golem King. Golems are invulnerable unstoppable machines created by an alchemical marriage of magic and pottery. There is just one drawback: they are far too heavy for a normal set of stairs to take without it collapsing.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Cheery mentions she wears a silver vest to protect herself from lycanthropes. This comes into play at the climax.
    • Subverted with the various Red Herrings Vimes finds during the investigation, like the green wallpaper or Vetinari's diary.
  • The Chessmaster: Vetinari is always one of these, but it's very notable in this book when it's implied he has basically figured out everything by himself but leaves things to Vimes because he expects him to upset Vetinari's political adversaries.
  • The Chosen Zero: Nobby Nobbs is almost certainly falsely revealed to be the Earl of Ankh and the successor to the throne of Ankh-Morpork. The rich and powerful citizens who want to dispose of Lord Vetinari see Nobby's claim to the throne as a stroke of luck (he’s a useful idiot and will make a good puppet ruler). The nobility of Ankh-Morpork couldn't accept Carrot because he was intelligent and a good person. The Big Bad couldn't accept Carrot because he's dating a werewolf. And Nobby wouldn't accept the job because "Vimes'd go spare!"
  • Clue, Evidence, and a Smoking Gun: Partway through the story, recovering alcoholic Vimes returns to his office to find a bottle of Bearhuggers whiskey in his desk. Shortly thereafter, three Guild heads show up, having received a notification. On entering the office, where Vimes is completely out, Lord Downey finds a mysterious bag of white powder... except Vimes isn't drunk at all. The bag is just sugar, Vimes having seen through Dragon's attempt at a set-up easily.
  • Comically Inept Healing: The Guild of Surgeon-Barbers. When Colon suggests calling a doctor in for Lord Vetinari, Vimes replies "Are you mad? We want him to live!" Instead, Vimes calls in the vet that the local Mafia rely on to keep racehorses alive.
  • Complexity Addiction: Part of the reason why Vimes couldn't determine how Vetinari was poisoned. Vetinari, on the other hand, figures out the deceptively simple solution fairly quickly.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The "dwarves hang criminals up by the... town hall" joke from Guards! Guards! makes a reappearance.
    • Carrot notes that Vetinari is rumoured to use rats as spies, something Vimes had personally witnessed in Guards! Guards!
  • Court Physician: Played with. When the Patrician falls mysteriously ill, Commander Vimes distrusts all doctors, mostly because nearly all of the Ankh-Morpork medical community consists of quacks who can always claim that a dead patient was "the will of the Gods". Instead, he hires a horse doctor as his physician because racing horses are valuable and a horse doctor who can't keep the majority of his patients alive risks having an encounter late at night with somebody telling him that "Mister Chrysophrase is very upset."
  • Crashing Dreams: Vimes dreams of marching golems, and the thumping of their feet turns into the thumping of someone knocking on the door.
  • Curse Cut Short: Dorfl interrupts just before Vimes can demonstrate to the priests an alternative definition of "gross profanity".
  • Death Seeker: The golem king Meshugah turns out to be one, and smiles just as he's about to be killed.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Used as a joke when Vimes is describing the setup: supposedly, he thinks Forcing Him To Pour A Whole Bottle Of Bearhugger's Whiskey Onto The Carpet should be a hanging offence.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The golems are just as inexpressive when they commit suicide during their work days.
  • Doctor's Orders: Vimes cites this to keep people out of the Patrician's sick room.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Golems make themselves a king in order to imitate those around them. Instead of being their deliverance, the king goes insane, violates golem law, and his role is subsumed by another golem who slaughters animals. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people asked God for a king because everyone else had one. They got Saul who went insane, disobeyed God and the Jewish prophets, and eventually lost his throne to a shepherd-boy named David. A bit of a stretch, but consider the golems are originally creatures of Jewish folklore and this is Pratchett we're dealing with. And one should note that in Yiddish, Meshugah means crazy.
    • The struggles of Cheery/Cheri, a female dwarf, in the masculine dwarf community, remind some gay readers of the troubles they had on their own. The fact that she has to fight to present as female, or even use the pronoun 'she' is also similar to the kinds of struggles that transgender people endure.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Sergeant Detritus' campaign against the troll drug Slab parodies the classic slogan "Just Say No" targeted at kids, with a much more direct campaign targeted at dealers.
    Detritus' poster: Slab: Jus' say 'Aarrghaarrghpleeassennonono UGH'.
  • Dumbwaiter Ride: Taking over security at the Patrician's Palace, Vimes covers an avenue of approach to the city ruler's sickroom—the dumbwaiter—by having a heavily armed dwarf riding in it.
  • Dying Smirk: The mad golem king smiles the instant before it’s fatally punched by Dorfl.
  • Embarrassing First Name:
    • Cheery Littlebottom (who also has an Embarrassing Last Name). Tries to change it a lot, eventually settling on the almost identical 'Cheri', though this doesn't last. (Later books clarified this by saying she was Cheery, pronounced Cheri).
    • It could be worse. Her father was named Jolly Littlebottom and her grandfather was named Beaky Littlebottom.
    • Her name in Dwarfish is Sh'rt'azs, pronounced Shortarse, hence the translation Littlebottom.
  • Enhance Button: Parodied. Cheery asks the iconograph imp to paint larger, more detailed pictures of the murder victim's eye.
    Imp: You're weird, mister.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Having just found the bag of arsenic planted in Vimes' desk, Vimes and Carrot are talking with Cheery, and Cheery mentions off-hand that lots of professions use arsenic legitimately. Vimes remarks that he's surprised that more people aren't dying from it.
    Cheery: Oh, most of them use golems, sir—
    The words stayed in the air even after Cheery stopped speaking.
    Vimes caught Carrot's eye and started to whistle under his breath.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Inverted, in that Dragon is as horrified as the priests that Dorfl can speak.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: Dragon King of Arms loves his heraldic wordplay. This becomes important later, as it turns out one of these "jokes" was a vital clue.
  • Eye Remember: Turns out this particular myth is true on the Disc.
  • Fantastic Racism: Cheery towards werewolves, and Angua towards golems (said to be the 'hatred of the undead for the unalive'). Dragon towards werewolves, or at least the idea of them having kids with humans. This book also introduces Vimes' distaste for vampires (which Carrot had held in the previous Watch book), and zombies. The latter lasts until the end of the book, when Vimes decides to hire some in a fit of contrary spite towards a human bigot.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Lampshaded. The Watch isn't supposed to do it anymore, "ever since Constable Flint had dipped his finger into a black-market consignment of ammonium chloride cut with radium, said "Yes, this is definitely slab wurble wurble sclup" and had to spend three days tied to his bed until the spiders went away." Detritus, of course, does it later on, and Carrot actually does this immediately after the paragraph describing Flint's little problem.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Dorfl is perhaps the most literal example - he really is on a flat Earth, and he refuses to believe in gods. When he challenges the gods to prove they exist, they hit him with lightning bolts, but, being made of pottery, all it does is melt his armour and leave him glowing.
    Dorfl: I Don't Call That Much Of An Argument.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Angua's description of the yudasgoat, a goat kept in the slaughterhouse and used to lead the other animals to the slaughter. The comparison between it and the plot to replace Vetinari with a puppet king is made obvious when Nobby, who had been selected to serve as said puppet, runs into the goat and is suddenly filled with a strange sense of camaraderie.
    • "Next you'll be telling me they have emotions!"
    • Early on, Vimes muses about how people are hard-wired to believe that kings make everything better. It later turns out that the golems created a king to make things better for them.
    • During the scene where Nobby and Colon are getting drunk at the Drum, one man is complaining that Mr. Carry fired him because he got a new golem to work the line. Mr. Carry who makes candles. And the golem in question moves unnaturally fast. The guy also warns Colon that the golems will be after his job next. Guess who joins the Watch at the end of the book? Amusingly enough, the guy from the candle factory used to work as a wick-dipper and end-teaser.
    • Vimes comes across a drawing of Vetinari's that essentially explains the entire golem plot (a king made up of thousands of smaller figures—a golem king made up of golem parts.). Not bad coming from a man buzzed on arsenic.
    • The defunct Vimes family coat-of-arms incorporates a crown with a sword running through it, and a bundle of wood with an axe bundled in it. Nobby rejects his proffered "kingship" in a blind panic at the thought of Vimes cutting his head off, and the unseen discussion in the Rats Chamber between Vimes and the conspirators ends with an axe buried in the table.
  • Founding Day: A subplot involves the tricentenary of the founding of the First Ankh-Morpork Republic on the 4th of Grune 1688 following the Ankh-Morpork Civil War. However, the only people who care are historical re-enactment geeks, and most of them are closet royalists who think the wrong side won.
  • Freedom from Choice: As the Discworld Companion puts it, Stoneface Vimes introduced democracy to Ankh-Morpork, and the people voted against it. In fact, fear of freedom and the desire for a strong leader are a reoccurring theme within the book.
  • Fur Against Fang: Although no direct vampire/werewolf fights occur, Dragon King Of Arms' distaste for a Carrot/Angua lineage is an early clue that this trope applies in Discworld. Of course, it also interferes with his little "hobby".
  • Golem: Golems and Dorfl himself were briefly mentioned in Reaper Man and Soul Music, but this is the book to really develop them. Also, in a Retcon, golems are now powered by a scroll with words inside their flip-top heads rather than a word physically carved on their forehead.
  • The Good King: What the golem king was intended to be.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The Golems' attempt to make another of their kind results in a half-baked, insane monstrosity. Mostly because they wanted him to be perfect.
  • Grow Beyond Their Programming: Many of the golems appear to be doing this, however only Dorfl really does when Carrot puts Dorfl's bill of ownership in the golem's chem and gives him ownership of himself.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Dorfl smashes up a workplace of two golems, and to his surprise they start trying to repair what he broke.
  • The Help Helping Themselves: Discussed. Commander Vimes notes how everyone takes small, inconsequential things from work, and how there's nothing wrong with a household servant putting old sheets or spare boot polish to good use. He's only investigating because a maid had the bad luck to take home an arsenic-laced candle stub that poisoned the Patrician.
    Vimes:' But you take home the candle stubs? Still half an hour of light in 'em, I expect, if you burn them in a saucer?
    Mildred: But that's not stealing, sir! That's perks, sir.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Subverted. During Vimes' confrontation with the villain, he claims to have put holy water in the wick of the candle that was lighting the room in which he confronted Dragon. Shortly after, this is revealed to be a bluff.
  • Holding in Laughter: When the dwarf Cheery Littlebottom (daughter of Jolly, granddaughter of Beaky) joins the Watch, she's surprised that the stone-faced Commander Vimes doesn't so much as twitch at the mention of her name. Vimes sees her out, then closes himself in his office, muffles his head in his coat, and starts cackling.
  • Humiliation Conga: Colon decides to retire from being a Watchman and go live on a farm. A series of accidents involving animals (and their excrement) makes him change his mind.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • "I don't want a killer working in my slaughter house!"
    • Carrot finds Sock's wording of Dorfl's bill of sale interesting and comments on his grammar. Carrot, for whom Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma was named.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Invoked by name, and averted in the same sentence when Angua reflects on the troubles of being a werewolf. It's easy to be a vegetarian by day, but hard not to be a humanitarian by night.
  • Inspired by…: The poisoning method was likely inspired by the 1928 Dr. Thorndyke story As A Thief In The Night, which uses an identical means of administering arsenic - though in that case it’s discovered using forensic methods (which Vimes thinks little of in this story, and there’s even an in-joke where the Watch thinks two separate pieces of evidence won't tell them much because they're covered in all these greasy fingerprints...)
  • Insubstantial Ingredients: Dipping candles in Holy Water and evaporating the water leaves behind the holy... supposedly.
  • Insult Backfire: Played with: Vetinari points out Vimes' "nasty suspicious mind", which Vimes takes as a compliment. It clearly is, especially considering who's saying it. Vetinari also says Vimes has "the mind of a true policeman", and implies he didn't mean it as a compliment even though Vimes takes it as one.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Arsenic-induced delirium causes Vetinari to start reciting memories from school: "Is that not so, young Vetinari? Yes indeed, sir. Correct. But where then shall we put it, seeing that all will look for it? In the last place they will look, sir. Wrong. Foolish. We put it where no one will look..." He also thinks about, "The soup of the afternoon. Yes. In which may well be found the croutons of teatime," and decides he's probably "light-headed" and not in a "normal frame of mind" to be thinking up something like that.
  • Job's Only Volunteer: Cheery Littlebottom is, according to Vimes, the only applicant for the alchemist job.
  • Just a Machine: Pretty much everyone's attitude to Golems, save Carrot.
  • Just Following Orders: Between them, Carrot and the Golems subvert the hell out of this one.
  • Knocking on Heathens' Door: Constable Visit takes many opportunities to proselytize, and is fully prepared to do so against considerable odds. When Dorfl takes an interest in his pamphlets, he's ecstatic about it.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: When Vimes realizes he can't do anything to really punish the villain, as he's both an immortal vampire and too influential, he decides to burn the genealogies which Dragon has worked on for centuries and which were implied to be Dragon's very reason for existing.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Dorfl is extremely strong, essentially invulnerable and has reflexes that allow an Arrow Catch. Small wonder golems are specifically instructed not to use violence.
  • Literary Allusion Title: To the Book of Daniel.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Lampshaded when Colon gets captured in a cell that strangely does not contain various items that he can use to make his escape.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: Dragon King of Arms (whose long existence grants him a certain perspective on these things) reflects:
    Men said things like "peace in our time" or "an empire that will last a thousand years," and less than half a lifetime later no one even remembered who they were, let alone what they had said or where the mob had buried their ashes.
  • Luxurious Liquor: Nobby Nobbs (who's been set up as the King of Ankh-Morpork) is invited to a party and then to a smoking room, where he swills the brandy like beer.
  • Mathematician's Answer: When Vetinari asks "What is that in the table?", Vimes' first response is "It's an axe, sir."
  • Meaningful Name/Bilingual Bonus/Yiddish as a Second Language:
    • Fittingly for creatures whose origins lie in Jewish folklore, the golems all have Yiddish names. Most of them (Dorfl, Bobkes, Klutz) describe humble or insulting things, while "Meshugah" appropriately means "crazy, insane".
    • A subtler bilingual bonus is in the coats of arms Dragon shows to Vimes, which turn out to conceal clues - unusually he gives Mr. Carry's arms' motto in English (or Morporkian) as "Art Brought Forth the Candle"... Vimes eventually figures out that in Latin (or Latatian, the Old Morporkian language) this would be Ars Enixa Est Candelam.
  • Men Are Generic, Women Are Special:
    • Male and female dwarfs are hard to tell apart, even by other dwarfs, so they're all assumed to be male by default. Cheery is referred to as "he" until she starts reclaiming her femaleness, and she does so by adopting Tertiary Sexual Characteristics, such as nail polish and lipstick.
    • It happens with golems too in a subtler way: When Dorfl starts being seen as a person rather than as a thing, "it" segues into "he" as if it were only natural.
  • Mess on a Plate: The takeaway that Vimes gets for Vetinari. Vetinari awkwardly stabs at it and asks Vimes if he's sure someone hasn't already eaten it.
  • Motive Misidentification: Vimes assumes the conspirators want to sideline Carrot because he really is as righteous as the legends say, and such a King might make things awkward for the city's over-privileged. Dragon King of Arms actually doesn't want his relationship with Angua to "pollute" the bloodline.
  • Mugging the Monster:
    • Enforcers from the Ratcatchers' Guild occasionally get the idea that it would be easy to persuade a tiny fellow like Wee Mad Arthur to start paying dues to the guild. They generally end up with broken kneecaps if they're lucky.
    • A trio of inept unlicensed thieves try to rob the Watch's favorite off-duty watering hole, and then take Angua hostage. It doesn't go well.
  • Namesake Gag: There's a footnote about people with weapons named after them, and how they attract rumours that they were killed by their namesakes, beginning with the more-or-less historical Joseph Guillotin and ending with the rather less historical Sir William Blunt-Instrument.
  • The Napoleon: Wee Mad Arthur, probably the most ridiculously extreme example of this ever. He's a six-inch tall gnome, but also a tiny, highly concentrated ball of badass. The explanation runs that he's no more angry than the average human, but since he's so small, all his rage is condensed into a tiny space and under intense pressure. And things under pressure have a habit of blowing up.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Vimes complains about the very romantic view many Ankh-Morporkians seem have of the old royal family; some of his dialogue suggests that Lorenzo the Kind's propensity for torture and "fondness for children" is widely known, but it's the rebel who cut his head off that gets the most scorn.
  • Not Quite Dead: One of Nobby's grandmothers — his excuse for having taken three "grandmothers' funeral" days off in that year alone. Later in the series taking the day off for your grandmother's funeral becomes a running gag, and at one point it's mentioned watchmen get three annually.
  • Obviously Evil: Dragon, King of Arms, made apparent in his second scene if not the first. It's part of the reason the book's a howdunnit rather than a whodunnit.
  • Off the Wagon: Subverted. Vimes is able to resist temptation, but certain members of Ankh-Morpork's guilds are led to believe that he had fallen off the wagon before they checked up on him.
  • One-Gender Race: Deconstructed with dwarfs (although the thing about female dwarfs looking almost identical ultimately came from the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, because Our Dwarves Are All the Same).
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Probably by accident, the name "Ron" turns up a lot in this one. There's Ron the barman at the Mended Drum, Ron the rat-catcher whom Wee Mad Arthur beats up, Ron's Pizza Hovel from which Vimes orders Vetinari's Klatchian Hots (without anchovies), and Canting Crew regular Foul Ole Ron.
  • Orphaned Punchline: The end of a joke Nobby tells at a party: "And she said, "That's funny — it didn't do that last night!"
  • Ow, My Body Part!: An extremely odd example. "Against all probability, his hair ached."
  • Painting the Medium: In some editions, the font used for the golems' writing evokes the look of Hebrew, in a nod to golems having their origins in Jewish folklore.
  • Phrase Catcher: Several unrelated people describe Nobby as 'an absolute tit'.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Wee Mad Arthur. Exaggerated by the fact that he also has a Hair-Trigger Temper and a kick like a normal-sized man's, but concentrated to a smaller surface area.
  • Playing Drunk: Vimes, when he's not really Off the Wagon.
    Vimes: When we find the man responsible, somewhere at the top of the charge sheet is going to be Forcing Commander Vimes To Tip a Whole Bottle of Single Malt On The Carpet. That's a hanging offence.
  • Playing Sick: Vetinari figures out how he's being poisoned before Vimes does, but he figures it's still useful to have Vimes keep investigating, so he doesn't tell Vimes that he's already solved it and pretends he's still being poisoned.
  • Police Code for Everything: Angua says that dwarfs are commonly booked on a No. 23, "running screaming at people and trying to cut their knees off."
  • Pulling Themselves Together: After smashing on a warehouse floor, Meshuggah reconstitutes itself, in a manner reminiscent of a T-1000.
  • Pun: There are several of them in every Discworld book, but in this one some puns are in fact clues to the murder plot.
    • Raise a glass for Vimes' 'departed spirits' pun. That's top shelf.
    • At the book's end, Hughnon Ridcully addresses Dorfl as me old china, china plate being Cockney rhyming slang for mate. Of course, Dorfl, described in the same section as a ceramic atheist, is also, in a sense, made of china.
    • Meshugah, the golem king, is described as being incompletely fired - "half-baked" being an expression meaning ill-conceived or incompletely carried out. Meshugah also means crazy in Yiddish and Hebrew.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Once Dorfl can speak, capitals are used on every word to convey the fact that he speaks Ponderously And With Great Deliberation.
  • Puppet King: Part of the plan was to set up Nobby Nobbs as one. Fortunately he's intelligent/cowardly enough that even if he doesn't understand the conspirators' motives, he knows it's far safer to run away from the offer.
  • Red Herring: References to Vetinari's green wallpaper seem to imply it had something to do with his poisoning (also a reference to the theory that Napoleon was poisoned by arsenic-containing wallpaper in Real Life). Vimes even entertains this theory briefly, before realizing that it can't possibly be true.
  • Refusal of the Call: Nobby never, ever volunteers.
    The call to duty would not find him wanting. In fact, it wouldn't find him at all.
  • Religious Robot: A newly liberated golem declares himself to be an atheist, but expresses interest in discussing religion with a pious watchman who has a penchant for Knocking on Heathens' Door.
    Constable Visit (overjoyed): No one's ever asked for more pamphlets!
  • Retcon: There's a minor continuity error; at the beginning, Angua has to introduce Cheery to Dorfl and explain what a golem is, yet later in the book Cheery tells Vimes she worked with golems at the alchemist's guild in Pseudopolis, which took place before the book started.
  • Ret Irony: Subverted. Colon swears he is retiring after this to go live on a farm, but close experience with animals rapidly changes his mind. He's going to buy a farm, even.
  • Revealing Reflection: Vimes sees an assassin's attack coming in his shaving mirror in time to dodge. It's hinted that the mirror's design and placement have been carefully chosen to facilitate this.
  • Royal Inbreeding: Multiple:
    • It's mentioned that in the city of Genua, the royal lines died out "through interbreeding so intensively that the last king kept trying to breed with himself".
    • Vimes asks if Dragon King of Arms is "breeding for recessive chins" on learning of his pastime (ensuring the nobles of Ankh-Morpork only marry other nobles).
  • Running Gag: Multiple:
    • Roderick and Keith the hippos.
    • References to people "prodding buttock" rather than "kicking arse". Kicking arse is too violent.
    • Another one features a vampire who complains to the Watch every time he 'dies' on the job. This fellow either has a (re)death wish or the worst risk-analysis skills in history: he takes jobs as a holy water bottler, garlic stacker, pencil maker, picket fence builder, and sunglasses tester.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Nobby eventually leaps out a window when the nobles offer to make him the new king of Ankh-Morpork.
  • Shapeshifting Heals Wounds: Subverted: Angua changes to her wolf form to save Cheri from falling into a vat of molten wax. Unfortunately, Cheri was wearing her silver chainmail vest (she'd heard there was a werewolf in the Watch, not once picking up that she confiding her fears to the werewolf), causing burns to her cheeks and gums that are still visible when she turns back to human.
  • Sherlock Can Read: When Vimes discusses how a clever forensic alchemist could tell him what kind of cigar he smokes, Cheery immediately answers "Pantweed's Slim Panatellas," then tells him the packet was on his desk.
  • Shout-Out: Multiple:
    • According to Word of God, the climactic scene in the candle factory was inspired by the end of Terminator 2.
    • Biers is a pun on Cheers.
    • Drumknott's comment that if Vimes did not exist, Vetinari would have to invent him is based on a Voltaire quote, where Vimes replaces God.
    • To Monty Python's Life of Brian: Discussing clay, Igneous the troll says that "he's got lumps of it, out the back".
    • The Rats Chamber is a reference to England's Star Chamber, and the German Ratskammer (which has nothing to do with rats, Rat means "council" in German).
    • Several to RoboCop:
      • Dorfl's lines"Undead or Alive, You're Coming With Me" and "Somewhere There Is A Crime Happening".
      • Meshugah being driven insane by all the contradicting commands on his chem.
      • One golem's problem with stairs mirrors the ED-209's inability to navigate them.
      • Dorfl also partially quotes the three Prime Directives from the same movie:
      Vimes: What are your duties?
      Dorfl: To Serve The Public Trust, Protect The Innocent, And Seriously Prod Buttock, Sir.
    • Fans of Isaac Asimov's robot novels will recognize many of the issues raised here.
    • The Six Million Dollar Man: "We can rebuild him. We have the pottery."
    • Stoneface Vimes' Backstory is based on that of Oliver Cromwell. Correspondingly the "Peeled Nuts", Nobby's historical re-creation society, is a reference to the "Sealed Knot", a real life society that re-enacts the English Civil War.
    • Vetinari's sketch of a crowned figure made up of hundreds of smaller humans is a reference to Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan".
    • Cheery's laboratory space in Pseudopolis Yard is an unused bathroom, for which she scrounges coffee cups and jars for beakers. The first forensic lab at Scotland Yard was nearly as strapped for supplies, and situated in a disused attic.
    • Vimes suspects that the arsenic that is poisoning Lord Vetinari is hidden in the ugly green wallpaper in his rooms. Green wallpaper dyed with arsenic-based pigment note  was very popular in the Nineteenth Century, resulting in several fatalities.
    • Another idea Vimes has is that Vetinari's journal is poisoned; he licks his fingers to turn a page, and gets a little dose of poison to his system each time. This method is used in The Name of the Rose.
    • Mr. Slant mentions an incident where Genua sent for a general from Ankh-Mopork to be their king after their own royal family had died out. Said general immediately went to war against Ankh-Morpork. This is close to what happened in Sweden during The Napoleonic Wars; the old, childless king of Sweden adopted the French General Bernadotte as his heir, and Bernadotte later made Sweden join the coalition against Napoleon.
    • When Colon is tied up in a darkened room, the narration notes there isn't even enough spare parts lying around to fashion into an armored car.
    • Wee Mad Arthur, in a boat on a river of urine, says "Just call me King of the Golden River."
    • Vetinari's poison soliloquy is a shout-out to poisons popular in 17th-century England, and possibly to a particular list compiled by one of the murderers of Sir Thomas Overbury, from which it includes six of seven poisons note .
  • Skewed Priorities: In the beginning of the book, we see the first murder victim, a priest, looking around his room at all the torn up books and thinking, "There was no need for that." Only upon further reflection does he consider that there was also no need for savagely beating him and leaving him to bleed to death either. And when someone else comes upon the priest, his instruction to them isn't "Stop my bleeding," or "Go get help," it's "Pick up the books." And since the second person is Dorfl, he proceeds to do so.
  • Slave Liberation: The golems attempt this by making the king, which fails. Dorfl becomes truly free when Carrot buys him from his previous owner and puts the receipt in Dorfl's control chem, giving the golem ownership of itself. Dorfl plans to free other golems this way by saving up money to buy his fellows and put their receipts in their chems.
  • Smug Snake: Dragon, King of Arms. He shows Vimes a vital clue to the poison plot early on in the story, just to toy with him.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Vimes' response to being told that the religious leaders of the city consider the newly-liberated Dorfl, who also now has a voice a religious abomination that should be destroyed.
    Vimes: I've given that viewpoint a lot of thought, sir, and reached the following conclusion: arseholes to the lot of 'em, sir.
  • Spiteful Spit: Sam Vimes pointedly removes his cigar and spits after uttering the phrase "respectable pillars of the community" when referring to guild leaders, so as to leave no doubts about his opinion of them.
  • Spit Take: Nobby is told by a cadre of nobles that they want him to become king. Since he's gulping down brandy, smoking a cigar, and sitting in a chair with wheels at the time, the result is a literally rocket-powered Spit Take.
  • Stealth Pun: Two within a few pages of each other; when Angua and Cheery go off to see Dorfl, it makes a reference to Angua's 'PLT', (Pre-Lunar Tension, according to the synopsis); then later it mentions that one can hear the occasional bleat of worried sheep. (A reference to events in The Wee Free Men.)
  • The Stinger: In the end, Nobby comments that he has more than just the ring of the Earl, hinting that he actually is the Earl of the city, second in line to the throne and related to Carrot. Or, if Vimes is right, that Nobby's family stole the heirlooms of at least three different aristocrats. Or, in fairness, both.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The Alchemists' Guild can always be counted on to Blow Stuff Up. When Cheery's asked how she left the Guild, she gives Vimes the answer "Through the roof, sir."
  • Taking the Bullet: Carrot takes a silver-tipped crossbow bolt through his palm to shield Angua.
  • Thoroughly Mistaken Identity: Mrs Gammage thinks the undead and differently alive clientele at Biers are still her old friends from when it used to be frequented by humans. She thinks a bogeyman is her old friend Charlie the plumber, and he plays along.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: Golems must obey their master, and cannot kill. The golems are so distressed at creating a golem that violates these principles they commit suicide. Dorfl is unique, as well, after being re-baked and having his chem replaced with his bill of sale, later being described as simply not doing violence because he decided for himself that it wasn't moral. (This worries some people, who think of what might happen should he ever change his mind. Consequently, they leave him alone.)
  • Too Dumb to Live: Three thieves make a spectacular series of bad decisions: first they decide to "work" in Ankh-Morpork without a license, then they choose a dwarf baker as their first victim, then they rob the Watch's favourite bar and take Angua hostage. Buttock prodding ensues.
  • Too Important to Walk: Subverted: the Patrician got Vimes a sedan chair as a wedding present (apparently just to annoy him), but Vimes refuses to actually use it. Instead, he has one of the sedan-carriers get in and helps carry it himself, although it makes his legs awfully tired.
  • Two Beings, One Body: According to Rogers the bulls' viewpoint, at least.
  • Unfortunate Name: Cheery Littlebottom, child of Jolly Littlebottom and grandchild of Beaky Littlebottom. Vimes somehow manages to keep a straight face when she introduces herself to him, but as soon as Cheery leaves the room he erupts into fits of laughter, barely managing to throw a coat over his head to muffle himself.
  • Unfulfilled Purpose Misery: "Golem must have a master" is a sentiment shared by all golems, to the point where they try to create a master for themselves to guide them, but fill it with so many contradictory commands that it goes crazy. Carrot eventually solves the golems' problem by inserting Dorfl's carefully-worded bill of sale into his own head, making him his own master and setting him on the path to free other golems.
  • Verbal Tic: Dragon, ahaha, King of Arms, has a noticeable tic. Ahah.
  • Vomiting Cop: Cherry Littlebottom, the first time she has to attend a murder scene.
  • Warts and All: Mentioned in a Shout-Out (as Stoneface Vimes is a Captain Ersatz of Oliver Cromwell).
  • We Can Rebuild Him: We Have The Pottery.
  • Wham Line:
    • As Obviously Evil as Dragon King of Arms is, it's possible not to understand either his villainy or his plot until the scene where several nobles are discussing Nobby's potential as a Puppet King.
    First noble: Dragon did well. I don't suppose the little tit really is an Earl by any chance?
    Second noble: Don't be silly.
    • Dragon's involvement in the murders (as opposed to merely plotting to install a Puppet King) is confirmed with a later Wham Line when Angua picks up on some signs at another villain's workplace and asks:
    Angua: Who's the vampire?
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: A large theme in the book concerns the treatment and prejudice the golems receive from other races, including from the undead. Carrot largely defies this and takes an interest in Dorfl's case.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?: The poor golems. They just wanted to create a perfect king who would have set them free.
    Clay of my clay! Thou shalt not kill!