“Harry Dresden, Wizard”
That’s what the sign on the office door says, along with some guidance about paranormal investigations and consulting advice. No parties. Harry’s not the kind of wizard who engages in the magic acts suburban parents hire for their kids’ birthday. His magic is summoning, power, scrying, and all the tricks you need to survive as Chicago’s only wizard/private investigator.
Harry, draped in his customary duster and wielding his staff, can be seen as a consultant to the Chicago Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit. Led by Lt. Karrin Murphy, the Special Investigations unit is where career cops went to be converted to laughing stocks. No one believes the mumbo-jumbo some of their crime theories cook up, and almost no one believes that Dresden actually has any special powers.
“Storm Front” opens with Dresden mulling over how to pay the bills as he glances around his untidy, unassuming office. Fortunately, his phone rings and Harry takes on a paying client; a distraught soccer mom named Monica, whose husband has disappeared. The gig will help cover the back rent, and sounds simple enough, so Harry accepts. Then, his phone rings again, and all fortune disappears from Dresden, as if his signature duster has holes in the pockets. The second call is from Murphy. She invites the wizard to a double-homicide, stating that this one is particularly gruesome.
The crime scene allows author Jim Butcher to inject some gravity to the story, perfectly balancing Harry’s charm and flippant nature. The gory scene is something beyond human comprehension - a murder by magic – that leaves Harry chilled and feeling empty. Murphy presses him for what he knows, and Harry is silently afraid that finding the answer may violate the code he is sworn by; and lead to his execution.
Murphy’s work and world are different than the wizard’s. Chicago is still thoroughly populated with criminals, and a new drug, something called ThreeEye, has been released on the streets. She’s driven. She only wants results; hence her willingness to even listen to the wizard everyone else considers a fake. Her relationship with Harry has its boundaries, and these are established early and effectively. Butcher also provides some hints about Harry’s past, and not all of it is as cheerful and aloof as the wizard may portray it.
Working both cases at once, Harry soon bounces between a vacation cabin out on Lake Provedence, then back to the mansion of a Vampire Madam. Harry’s unique blend of talent and poker face are on full display at all times. He uses a variety of spells, cantrips, summoning and flat out luck to overcome the odds and survive. Of course, it all goes downhill from there.
“Storm Front” presents a fantastic introduction to Dresden. This case isn’t some cat-up-a-tree, find-my-cheating-boyfriend, or even a-demon-ate-my-canary case. Solving these murders has Dresden tangling with Chicago’s toughest organized crime, fending off demons, interrogating fey, and trying to save his own skin the entire way. Then there’s the issue of dealing with his sarcastic companion, Bob the Skull, evading Morgan, the warden who constantly watches to make sure Harry doesn’t break the code, and keeping one very curious, and very sexy, roving reporter at bay. Every chapter presents a challenge or an emotional drain, and poor, charismatic Harry gets dragged through all sorts of misery (usually soaking wet.)
Butcher is an expert at providing small details of both the scenes and his characters. Readers are still allowed plenty of interpretation in the theatre of their minds, while being presented a solid view of the city, its cops, its mobsters, and the spell-slinging Dresden himself. “Storm Front” is well-paced, alternating intrigue, action, and character motivation at each turn. The characters are interesting; likeable when they’re supposed to be, tough when they have to be, and delightful when they interact in a constant positioning for leverage.
Butcher’s descriptions are eloquent, most significantly in the moments where the supernatural clashes with normal human reality. Butcher weaves the fantastic among the mundane; using both as an obstacle course for his unlikely hero.
The Dresden Files begin with “Storm Front”, which prepares readers for the inevitable initiation into Harry fandom. Butcher’s novels are an easy read, with parts comedy, action, thriller, supernatural, sex, lust, intrigue, and mystery...not all in equal measure. “Storm Front” is a great dual look at Harry’s work on a case and its peculiar challenges, and just a hint of what he’s done in the past...and how it may be coming back to haunt him.
Dresden has gone on to appear in a dozen books in his own series, a ton of short stories, a short-lived TV show, and even a role-playing game. He rightfully holds a place in sci-fi and fantasy history.
Read more on Jim Butcher, Harry Dresden, and The Dresden Files, including sample chapters from “Storm Front” at http://www.jim-butcher.com/books/dresden/storm-front.