Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
Moist von Lipwing (yes, that’s his real name) is a con man who’s finally gotten caught. Lord Vetinari of Ankh-Morpork gives him a choice: execution, or a job as postmaster-general of a haunted post office. Lipwig takes the job.
From then on, the story has two major plots. The first is a Lovecraftian sort of thing. The post office is shut down, filled with piles of undelivered mail and pigeon guano. The only living beings inside are a creepy old man, his assistant, and a cat. Lipwig must get to the bottom of why all the previous postmasters-general died in this building, and what is the horrible thing that lurks under the floorboards and drives people mad.
And also, the letters are beginning to talk to him.
The other subplot features Reacher Gilt, who owns a vaguely steampunky monopoly on the semaphore lines. He’d like to see Lipwig put out of the way.
I love Moist. He’s a complex character and boy, he grows throughout this book. It’s a foregone conclusion that he hits the fast track from con man to reformed con man, but you totally believe it.
What bothered me about this story is that the Lovecraftian plot gets resolved about halfway through the book. Moist von Lipwig figures out what the abomination is and dispatches one of the major villains. After that, the book is all about the societal issues of technology and monopoly. It’s still good, but it’s a major shift in tone.
And the resolution of the other plot, the Reacher Gilt one, didn’t make much sense to me. But I read the last 1/3 of the book in one sitting, so maybe I missed something.
Recommended. Going Postal is a good standalone and it’s a good way to introduce yourself to the Discworld. And it does a better steampunk than most of the books that advertise themselves as such.