Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)Harry Dresden is Chicago's only wizard for hire and the only one in the country with an ad in the yellow pages. He is also the consultant for Chicago's Special Investigations unit and when Lt. Karrin Murphy calls him to the scene of a grisly double murder the less-than-solvent Harry's eyes light up with dollar signs, but then he realizes that the crime was committed with the blackest of magic. Where there's black magic, there's a black mage and this one's got Harry in the crosshairs of his dark powers.

The first time I heard about Harry Dresden was when someone mentioned a TV series to me called The Dresden Files and lamented that it was canceled after only one season. Networks do that sometimes, cancel shows leaving fans scratching their heads wondering what the heck happened. So I looked it up, watched the episodes that were available in a Dresden-a-thon of sorts and loved it. Then I discovered that the show is actually based on the books and you can guess what happened to my TBR list right after. This year after reading several serious books in rapid succession I was ready for some light-hearted fun and picked up an omnibus of the first three Dresden Files books at the library.
Storm Front is Butcher's debut novel and it shows. It's obvious that in writing it he was testing himself, flexing his writerly muscles, becoming comfortable with the characters and Chicago's clandestine underworld. It isn't perfect but it is so much fun that it's hard to care about perfection. Harry Dresden is a black duster-wearing detective in the tradition of noir mysteries, a scruffy, wise-cracking bachelor, behind on his rent and with no personal life. He is also very old-fashioned, self-deprecating and with a past so painful he would rather not know what a person who looked into his soul would see. Murphy is his only friend, hesitant to believe in the supernatural but wise enough to go in with her eyes open and hire the only guy in the city who actually can help.
In this novel, and its sequels, Butcher combines three of my favorite genres: fantasy, mystery and adventure, add in tremendous imaginativeness and a break-neck pace that doesn't let up and we have a book I couldn't put down. There's also another very important ingredient: this book has heart, most likely because all the good guys know what's worth fighting for and they'll do it every time, and also because amidst all the witty banter and spell-casting there's always a quiet attention to the people involved, understanding of their feelings, hardships and humanity.
One of my other favorite things about the world of Dresden files is how the supernatural is tightly woven into the regular crime underbelly of Chicago: there are competing drug barons who go beyond the regular unsavory means to reach their ends and there's a madam who is on a very special diet and is more two-faced than one would think. Who said that a semi-automatic is all it takes to succeed in shady business?
I really enjoyed this book and couldn't wait to read the second one when this volume's bad guy got his due. Stop by next Sunday to see what I thought about it.

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