Pros: Snappy, sharp writing, and an interesting protangonist.
Cons: Hangdog attitute of the narrator, and some editing needed.
Recently, a friend of my partner's lent me a book through my Nook, my digital reader from B&N. That book was Jim Butcher's Storm Front. It was my first time in getting a book from the 'Lend me' system, and I was curious to see how good the author was, considering what a following he has these days. But there was one little problem.
I'm not much into paranormal fiction. Oh, I was in the past, as a teen and in my twenties, and I simply devoured the stuff, especially when it came to vampires. But now, well, the genre is a bit dated for me.
Set in modern day Chicago, in a world where magic is quite obvious, Harry Blackthorne Copperfield Dresden is working hard to make ends meet. He's a private investigator, and also, ahem, a wizard. And a darn good one, in spite of running afoul of the White Council, a mysterious oversight committee that has laid a sentence of execution on him if he takes another misstep again. But in a course of one day, he's about to have several cases land on his desk that will change quite a few things.
The first is a very gory, very grisly crime where Tommy Tomm, a crime boss' bodyguard, and his date of the night, have been found in a hotel room with their hearts ripped out of their chests. Whilst in middle of sex. Not a very pretty sight at all. The detective on the case, Karrin Murphy, is a friend of Harry's and keeps him on retainer and wants him to figure out who did it and why. Clearly it's sorcery of a very high order, and definitely on the dark side.
To balance that, there's the sudden meeting with the crime boss, Johnny Marcone, the current top dog in the city, who would be happy to pay Harry a considerable amount of money not to investigate the double murder.
Finally, there's Monica Sells, a very nervous wife, whose husband has vanished after a growing interest in the occult. Clearly she wants him found, but she's so fearful that Harry can hardly find out anything -- including the husband's name. All he has to go on is the address of a vacation home.
How all of this gets solved is the main plot of the book. In pursuit of the real answer, Harry gets put into a number of unenviable situations, among them visiting a vampire madam in her lair, coping with Mister, his massive grey cat, and Bob, the spectral assistant who lives in a skull with an incessant itch for nookie. There's fairies, who tend to be foul-mouthed and bad-tempered, and Morgan, the shadow lurking at Harry's back who would be more than happy to carve him up into cutlets if the White Council gives the order. And, yes, a demon who is stalking Harry.
It's quite a few problems to deal with. Along the way, there are beautiful women -- Harry has a bit of a problem with women -- a chase in the middle of the night with Harry buck-naked in a thunderstorm, and some interesting tidbits about magic. Indeed, one of the more interesting aspects of the story is the author's knowledge about the various sorts of magic, and I do say that he does a good job of handling it, and manages to do it without a lot of explainitis.
The story is told from Harry's POV, and the style works here, with a world-weary paranoia from Harry's view of things. At times the self-pity does get to be too much, and while I did expect that a little, it did start to grate about half-way through the book. I can deal with morose, but only for a while before I want to chuck the book at the wall.
But in terms of action and description, Mr. Butcher does a fine job with this one, and the story just never lets up throughout. The pace is just a little too much as it was hard to keep track of all the various bits of sorcery flying around the place and what with the various supernatural creatures.
Will I continue to read the series? Maybe. I did find this one interesting, but I've read a lot of this sort of thing before, and I have plenty of other books in the queue to get through. The writing is snappy, but the author needs to do a little bit of editing in this combination of magic and mystery -- other authors have done this sort of thing before, with the best of them being the late Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories.
Winding this up, this gets about three-and-a-half stars from me, rounded up to four stars for effort. It's good, but not great. If you're into this sort of thing, go right ahead and enjoy yourself.
The Dresden Files:
Storm Front -- you are here
Ghost Story -- due April 2011
Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files
Storm Front: A Novel of the Dresden Files
2000; ROC, New American Library