This is the 11th Discworld novel. It was written at the same time as the Bromeliad trilogy, and it shows: both works talk about how beings with short life spans live them faster than humans, so everyone's lifespan is subjectively about the same. Both also use mayflies as an example.
Unusually, there are two almost completely separate plots, and they are even denoted using two different typefaces (most noticeable in the first hardback edition).
The primary plot involves Death. His cosmic bureaucracy, the grey and numberless Auditors of Reality, sack him for getting too close to humans, and Death is sent to live as a mortal instead. Will Death get his post back, or will he have to face his own mortality?
The B-plot focuses on the consequences of what happens when Death Takes a Holiday (or in this case, is fired). Too much life force floods through the world, the recently dead arise as zombies, and metaphorical ideas are powered into life as the ancient (and recently deceased) wizard Windle Poons struggles to deal with the consequences.
The title is a pun on Repo Man.
Contains examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: Death's scythe. His first one is sharpened on sunlight and is so sharp it cuts words. But at the end when Death is forced to use the harvest scythe against the New Death, his own rage gives it an edge "beyond any definition of sharpness".
- Animated Adaptation: A segment of the book was animated by Cosgrove Hall in 1996 as an 8-minute short called "Welcome to the Discworld", the first filmed adaptation of the books. It only adapted Death finding his hourglass, the Auditors plotting to remove him, and him talking to Albert before departing his realm to spend his new time. It ended with "To be continued..." but was never picked up for a full series, despite the subsequent adaptations of Wyrd Sisters and even Soul Music.
- Artifact of Attraction: Death's new scythe is treated like this, because it is such a marvellous work of craft that Ned Simnel cannot bring himself to destroy it, as is required for Death's plan.
- Awesome, but Impractical: Death's successor has a horse made of bones. Death isn't impressed, because he's had horses like those who kept falling apart and fire-breathing horses who set fire to their own quarters.
- Bait-and-Switch Comment: The wizards see a man chasing his animated suit shouting that he paid seven dollars for it, who is then followed by a pair of walking trousers. Ridcully then comments on what an extraordinary occurrence this is: a tailor selling a suit with two pairs of pants for only seven dollars.
- Berserk Button:
- Death, when he sees that the New Death wears a crown and sees himself as ruling over the lives of mortals.Death: A CROWN?! I NEVER WORE A CROWN!
New Death: You never wanted to rule.
- This is rather shocking if you look at his appearances in previous books. That was one of the few times he's used an exclamation mark.
- Death, when he sees that the New Death wears a crown and sees himself as ruling over the lives of mortals.
- Big "YES!": One that takes up a whole page by itself. Word of God has it Pratchett went to the extra effort of writing an entire extra page of narrative just to ensure the "YES" was on the left side, so the reader would see it when they turned the page. Naturally, this didn't quite work in every release.
- The story begins and ends with Azrael.
- Also, there's a mention of "the other Morris dance" at the beginning, and it is explained near the end: whereas the normal Morris dance welcomes in the spring and life, the silent Dark Morris welcomes in the winter and death.
- Brick Joke: Turns out even the priests in the remote Lost Temple of Offler live in fear of "Mrs. Cake!"
- Bill Door remarks upon the inconvenience of skeletal horses when he and Miss Flitworth catch a glimpse of the New Death riding one. Later, after the New Death has been defeated, one of the neighbors finds the skeletal horse is still hanging around eating hay (or at least trying to) in Miss Flitworth's stable.
- The villagers really hate the Revenoo (especially since many of them are smugglers). Of course, Bill Door... isn't from taxes.
- Buffy Speak: The "blasted wire wheely baskety things."
- Catapult Nightmare: The first time Death dreams he cries out in his sleep, loud enough to wake Miss Flitworth and Cyril the dyslexic cockerel.
- Cessation of Existence: Bill Door knows that's what will happen to him when he dies; as a result, he's terrified of the prospect.
- Chekhov's Gag: The joke about Ridcully's favorite sauce being literally explosive if mixed with the wrong foods; later in the book Ridcully uses it as a weapon against a marauding compost heap.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Standard Discworld trope, but comes into play here because instead of there being one Death for everything, the spontaneously re-forming Deaths are built up by the beliefs of all the different species - for instance, the Death of Mayflies is a great black trout, Death of Turtles is a floating, empty shell, and Death of Trees is the disembodied sound of axes. The New Death's malevolence is based on the fact that modern people tend to treat death as more fearful and less of a natural occurrence than people in the past.
- Cool Old Lady: Straight-laced though she is, Miss Flitworth is Genre Savvy and determined enough to rate as one, the moreso in that she's the only person other than Ysabell to have smacked Death and gotten away with it.
- Cowboy Episode: Death's sub-plot could be considered a pastiche of westerns. A stranger with a mysterious past ("Bill Door") tries to start life new in an isolated farming community, but must face sinister figures who are after his head (the Auditors and the New Death) with only the help of some unlikely friends (Miss Flitworth). There's even a show-down at twelve o'clock, though it's at midnight rather than noon.
- Dancing Pants: One of the side effects of the excess life force is inanimate objects coming to life, including clothing.
- Deadpan Snarker: Death to the New Death constantly marks the latter's attempts to lay on the "drama", like dramatically posing on a hillside, illuminated only by the flash of lightning.
- Death by Irony: The Counting Pines, which show their age to stop people cutting them down to count their rings, but are then almost all felled by "the ornamental house number plate industry".
- Death Takes a Holiday: Or rather, is fired, but the effects are the same.
- The Disembodied: The Death of Trees manifests as the bodiless sound of an axe chopping into wood.
- Don't Fear the Reaper: In contrast to the Death we know, the Witch-King-esque Death of Humans that arrives later in the book to claim the original is definitely the type of reaper that should be feared. After dispatching him, Death successfully pleads his case to Azrael that he should be allowed to be a little human, to care for his "harvest".
- Early-Bird Cameo:
- Casanunda (here spelled Casanunder) the Dwarf is mentioned in a footnote at the end. He'd later become a major character in Witches Abroad and Lords and Ladies.
- There are a couple of passing references to The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents, long before they received their own book.
- And while poor Ned Simnel never did get the hang of steam power, it turns out his son Dick did.
- Eternal Recurrence: Implied by Azrael's remark that "I remember when all this will be again."
- Explaining the Soap: Hughnon Ridcully's attempt to recap recent events on Cori Celesti sounds like a cross between Greek mythology and the soap opera recaps done by BBC announcers in the 70s. His brother Mustrum dismisses it with "I've never been able to get interested in that stuff, myself."
- Eureka Moment:
- Subverted. Ned Simnel is wondering how to make his Combination Harvester run without a horse. A blast of steam goes off immediately, but he writes it off as a useless distraction.
- In the New Discworld Companion, it is claimed that this has happened to poor Ned over 150 times and ultimately ends up being the death of him. Dick learns from the mistakes.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The New Death is unable to understand why Miss Flitworth would give up some of her own time on the earth to give Death a chance to defeat him.
- Fantastic Naming Convention: One Man Bucket's tribe names children after the first thing the mother sees upon looking outside their tent after the birth. One Man Bucket's full name is "One Man Throwing A Bucket Of Water Over Two Dogs". His brother... wasn't so lucky.
- Genius Loci: The living shopping mall
- Genre Savvy: Bill Door quite rightly deduces that if the New Death is the sort to pose dramatically, then he's also not going to attack until midnight. Miss Flitworth, when her fiance disappeared decades ago, sensed that Discworld's narrativium was trying to force her into a role a la Great Expectations, and defied it by getting on with the business of life instead of moping about it.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: One-Man-Bucket's twin brother."Two-Dogs-Fighting? Two-Dogs-Fighting? Wow, he would have given his right arm to be called Two-Dogs-Fighting."
- Glamour Failure: Sal, the innkeeper's daughter, can see Bill Door clearly for a skellington in overalls.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The excess of life force causes Mustrum Ridcully to produce small, strange-looking creatures whenever he swears. He resorts to euphemisms to prevent this from happening, and eventually produces "the most genteel battle-cry in the history of bowdlerization: 'Darn them to heck!'"
- Graffiti of the Resistance: Zombie Reg Shoe paints pro-undead-rights graffiti on any handy wall in Ankh-Morpork. Subverted in that La Résistance, in this case, consists of one overenthusiastic zombie who's only a heroic resistance leader in his own mind.
- Hair-Trigger Avalanche: Referenced."One yodel out of place would attract, not the jolly echo of a lonely goatherd, but fifty tons of express-delivery snow."
- Heroic Fire Rescue: By Bill Door (Death) no less.
- Hive Mind: The predatory shopping mall.
- The Igor: The Notfaroutoes have been advertising for one for a while.
- Ill-Fated Flowerbed: Technically Ill-Fated Greensward; Modo takes it surprisingly well when the zombified Windle Poons chose to emerge from the Earth... right under the immaculately tended lawn."Don't you worry about that, Mr. Poons," said the dwarf cheerfully. "Everything's growing like crazy anyway. I'll fill it in this afternoon and put some more seed down and five hundred years will just zoom past, you wait and see."
- "Just So" Story: A modern urban version; abandoned shopping trolleys being found in the strangest places is explained as them being rogue drones from the mall Hive Mind that escaped.
- Kitsch Collection: Miss Flitworth has an entire room decorated with just about every kind of knickknack imaginable, from fine china plates to cheap porcelain dogs and everything in between. They're implied to be souvenirs from her late fiancee.
- Lame Pun Reaction: One of the Auditors (who's starting to develop a personality) makes a pun. It's not well-received.One said, That is the point. The word is him. Becoming a personality is inefficient. We don't want it to spread. Supposing gravity developed a personality? Supposing it decided to like people?
One said, Got a crush on them, sort of thing?
One said, in a voice that would have been even chillier if it was not already at absolute zero, No.
- Line-of-Sight Name:
- Death comes up with his alias' surname because there's a door behind Miss Flitworth. This comes after his initial attempt of looking up and suggesting "MR. SKY?"
- There's also One-Man-Bucket, short for One-Man-Pouring-A-Bucket-Of-Water-Over-Two-Dogs. This was a tribal tradition in One-Man-Bucket's tribe - children are named for the first thing their mother sees outside the tent after their birth. His elder twin brother, named ten seconds earlier, wasn't so lucky...Windle: Let me guess. Two-Dogs-Fighting?
One-Man-Bucket: Two-Dogs-Fighting? Two-Dogs-Fighting? Wow, he would have given his right arm to be called Two-Dogs-Fighting.
- Literal Metaphor:
- The overabundance of life after Death is fired means that it infuses what was only a metaphor - the idea of shopping malls as parasitic predators that suck the life out of inner city shops - and makes it real.
- Also, after Bill Door saves her from the fire, Sally the innkeeper's daughter is Living on Borrowed Time... borrowed, in this case, from Bill Door's life-timer.
- Mathematician's Answer: Death answers some questions this way.Flitworth: You've got to be Bill or a Tom or a Bruce or one of those names.
- Meaningful Name: "Flit" describes a light or quick movement; insects are often described as flitting. Miss Flitworth's name addresses the question, what's the worth of something so brief as a flit?
- Monsters Anonymous: The Fresh Start Club.
- Mugging the Monster: A zombified Windle has some fun with a pack of unlicensed thieves who try to mug him, especially when they threaten him with "Your money or your life!"
- Not-So-Forgotten Birthday: Given a twist at the beginning, when the wizards throw Windle Poons a surprise deathday party, which plays out just like the trope.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Auditors. Enjoy the fact that one showing any sign of personality goes up in smoke... or is that sad?
- Only Mostly Dead: Sal, after Bill Door starts sharing his time with her.
- Our Werewolves Are Different:
- Ludmilla Cake, who is human-shaped three weeks out of the month, turns into a half-wolf-half-woman at the full moon; fellow Fresh Start Club member Lupine is the opposite, a wolf that turns into a wolfman every full moon. Poons arranges for them to meet. Another character points out the Fridge Logic involved.
- At the end, we get this passage that makes it pretty clear what happens between them:There'd be two figures running across the high moorland under the moon. Not entirely wolves, but not entirely human. With any luck, they'd have the best of both worlds. Not just feeling... but knowing. Always best to have both worlds.
- Making Money mentions in passing that the relationship is still going on years later.
- Painting the Medium:
- Besides Mr. Bill Door's distinctive text style, the scythe that Bill Door creates to fight the new Death becomes so sharp that it starts/ cutt/ing up the dial/ogue.
- A mugger caught by Lupine and subjected to a Neck Lift not only speaks aloud in half-strangled mumbles, but actually thinks in them too.
- Then there's Azrael's own distinctive text style. In 72 points, the largest font normally used; or in the original edition, printed so large that the one word fills the page.
- Pinball Projectile: Bill Door invokes this when pretending to be comically bad at pool and darts.
- Powers That Be: Azrael, the Death of Universes, is one of the eight Old High Ones.
- Predatory Business: The mall is a literal one.
- Proportional Aging: The book shows different life forms experiencing time differently depending on their life spans. Trees have a conversation that takes seventeen years and when one is chopped down, they seem to the others to have simply vanished. Meanwhile, elderly mayflies at sunset are seen reminiscing about how the sun was properly yellow and high in the sky when they were young.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Death vs New Death is filled with these both ways.Renata: What is it?
Death: IT WAS THE COMBINATION HARVESTER.
Renata: Was? What is it now?
Death: A POOR LOSER.
- Running Gag:
- Cyril, the dyslexic cockerel who can never get his crow right.
- Zombie Windle has eyes like gimlets."You mean like that Dwarf who runs the delicatessen on Cable Street?"
- Windle Poons' last words to the company in the Great Hall of Unseen University are almost identical to those of Lawrence Oates, a member of Scott's doomed Polar Expedition who deliberately walked out and lost himself in the Antarctic night so as not to slow his comrades down."I am just going out. I may be some time."
- His last words when he dies for the first time ("What I could do with right now is one of Mr Dibbler's famous meat pies -") mirror the alleged last words of William Pitt The Younger ("I think I could eat one of Bellamy's veal pies.")
- Can't forget Vetinari's line when nobody in Ankh-Morpork knows what's going on with the poltergeist activity.
- A possible one to For a Few Dollars More: Death's hourglass running out as New Death bears down on him, only for Miss Flitworth to give up some of her time to give him a chance, is strongly reminiscent of The Man With No Name bringing the second musical pocketwatch into the duel between Mortimer and Indio.
- Death's battle with his replacement is reminiscent of the showdown in High Noon, with the combatants facing off and then the protagonist fleeing through the village as he tries to gain an advantage, except it takes place at the other twelve o'clock.
- The wizards fighting the shopping trolleys sequence has a few to Alien, which Pratchett is fond of referencing in other works as well.
- The line about the 'Dark Enchantments' chocolates ("To deliver a box of chocolates like this, dark strangers drop from chair-lifts and abseil down buildings."), is a reference to the old Cadbury's Milk Tray adverts, as well as the name of the chocolates themselves being a reference to Black Magic, another type of boxed chocolates.
- The Priests in the Lost Jeweled Temple of Doom of Offler remark that a chap with a whip got as far as the giant spikes.
- Miss Flitworth's line about moping around in her wedding dress forever may be a reference to Great Expectations.
- The setting of the climax of the Windle storyline is highly reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead (1978). Except that the undead monsters are the heroes, and the evil monster is the shopping mall itself.
- Bill Door working himself to the point of collapse in a race with the Combination Harvester is reminiscent of the American folk hero John Henry, who worked himself to death competing with a steam drill.
- Bill Door mentions playing Exclusive Possession for someone's life once. He was the boot.
- The New Death's appearance and some of his dialogue is based on the Witch-King of Angmar from The Lord of the Rings (who proclaimed to Gandalf that he was "Death Himself"). Then again, the Witch-King has a certain resemblance to the personification of Death in Paradise Lost, as well as the image of a crowned death in medieval iconography.
- Windle Poons' last words to the company in the Great Hall of Unseen University are almost identical to those of Lawrence Oates, a member of Scott's doomed Polar Expedition who deliberately walked out and lost himself in the Antarctic night so as not to slow his comrades down.
- Sanity Slippage: This is the book where the Bursar starts to become unglued - and who can blame him?
- Showdown at High Noon: Played with; Death's battle against the New Death of Men takes place at midnight rather than high noon, and Death is unamused at his counterpart's ham-handed attempt at "DRAMA".
- Sibling Rivalry: Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully's brother Hughnon is the High Priest of Blind Io and therefore the leader of Ankh-Morpork's clerics. They get on pretty well, but drop continuous cracks about each other's vocation:Mustrum: How's things in the godbothering business?
Hughnon: Not bad. How's the tinkering with things men was not meant to understand?
Mustrum: Pretty fair. Pretty fair.
- Staring Kid: Sally Lifton, the little girl who won't stop talking about the "skellington with all bones on." She's seeing exactly what's there, unlike the adults, and poor Death is at a complete loss trying to deal with her.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: After seeing a man chasing his animated suit shouting that he paid seven dollars for it, who is then followed by a pair of walking trousers, both Ridcully and his brother wonder if anyone got a look at the label since that's a good deal.
- That's No Moon!: The vast plain of ridges and valleys seen when the Auditors speak to Azrael at the start of the novel? It's one of Azrael's fingertips.
- The Dead Can Dance: Death turns out to be pretty light on his feet at the end of the book, in a nod to the medieval depiction of the "danse macabre," the Dance of Death that unites everyone regardless of station.Miss Flitworth: I take it you do dance, Mr. Bill Door?
Mr. Bill Door: FAMED FOR IT, MISS FLITWORTH.
- Time Abyss: Azrael is as old as the universe (and note his namesake from Islamic theology is said to be the last being in all the universe to die at the end of time). He's also responsible for the Ultimate Clock, which is actually the opposite of an ordinary clock — rather than telling people what the time is, it tells Time what it is. Death notes, too, that unlike other clocks, this Clock only goes around once. And, at the end of the book, Azrael states "I remember when all of this will be again."
- Title Drop: The page quote, from Death's plea to Azrael.
- Together in Death: At the end of the book, when Death has been reinstated by Azrael, he takes the soul of Renata Flitworth back in time to the spot where her fiance died in an avalance, so they can enter the afterlife together.
- Tonto Talk: One Man Bucket apparently speaks like this while acting as Mrs. Cake's spirit guide. Off the clock, he turns out to have been born and raised in Ankh-Morpork, and all his talk of great spirits, white buffalo, and the Happy Hunting Grounds is made up to impress Mrs. Cake's more gullible customers.
- Unfortunate Names: Implied to have been the case for One-Man-Bucket's twin brother. One-Man-Bucket came from a tribe that named children after what their mother saw looking out the window after they were born. His full name is, "One-Man-Pouring-A-Bucket-Of-Water-Over-Two-Dogs," and he says that his twin was unlucky, as he was born first and named after what the dogs had been doing a moment before. Windle mentions it must have been rough being named "Two-Dogs-Fighting.""Two-Dogs-Fighting? Two-Dogs-Fighting? Wow, he would have given his right arm to be called Two-Dogs-Fighting."
- The Unsmile: "Ludmilla gave [Poons] the bright, crystalline smile perfected by people who had long ago learned not to let their feelings show."
- Vehicular Sabotage: At the end, when the New Death's spirit has possessed the Combination Harvester to go One-Winged Angel, Death calmly reaches into his robe and removes a small part - one integral to its frame - that he had removed earlier. The machine collapses inches before reaching him.
- Wardrobe Wound: Windle Poons gets stabbed in the chest by a terrified thief in the first hours of his undeath. He is very annoyed about the damage to the robe, since it was his best robe, he was hoping to be buried in it, and silk is really hard to repair.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Reg Shoe is frequently going on about the shabby treatment the undead get in Ankh-Morpork, but that's largely him being a Soapbox Sadie.
- When the Clock Strikes Twelve: This is when the new Death will turn up. The new Death deliberately chose this time in order to heighten what Death dismissively refers to as "drama".
- Womb Level: The predatory mall becomes this once Windle and company get the Queen's attention.
- World's Shortest Book: The Librarian may not be an expert on guerilla warfare but, as he reminds the Dean, what he doesn't know about orangutan warfare could be written on the squashed-up remains of a smart-ass wizard.
- Zombie Advocate: Spoofed with Reg Shoe and his "Fresh Start Club", who campaign (ineffectively) for the rights of the dead and undead.
- Zombie Gait: Discussed; the reason Windle Poons walks with a show, shuffling gait is because he has to consciously control the processes that his body used to do automatically, including walking. He's not sure why he's holding his arms out in front of him, though; it just feels natural.
I REMEMBER WHEN ALL THIS WILL BE AGAIN.