I’ve seen Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files novels in book stores many, many times over the last several years as I’ve perused the stacks of science fiction and fantasy, but I was never tempted to pick one up and try it. I can’t say that I’d ever heard anything bad about them. I honestly didn’t know anything about them except that they were popular. And it doesn’t take a genius to realize that a series is popular when it takes up nearly two shelves.
No. My avoidance of The Dresden Files was based on a few shallow, ill-informed impressions I held concerning the books. Impressions based on two insignificant things that I should be absolutely ashamed to have used to base judgments on.
Right. It was the covers.
And the sheer number of books in the series. And when I think back on all of the times that I saw those books in stores and made that split second, almost unconscious decision not to pick them up, to sneer at the thought of reading something so popular, so trite, so silly, I’m reminded of another time that I looked down my nose at a popular book series and swore in the name of all that is holy (or unholy) in publishing that I’d never taint my library with its silliness. Yes, dear readers, I’m talking about Harry Potter. The one and only. Hard to believe, huh? That I could find something so loathsome and now cherish it so completely. Well, let’s not get carried away.
Anyway, the point is that I’ve always had a hard time jumping on the bandwagon with certain things. There are probably a variety of reasons for this, but chief among them is a simple disdain for joining. Conforming. My disposition tends toward the cynical, and I’ve often thought that the fact that so many people can like something so much, and the fact that most people are idiots adds up to the approximate answer that said liked thing must equate to total nonsense. There’s a pretty simple formula you can apply here when in doubt and it goes something like this: idiots+shared interest=total nonsense, or A+B=Crap. I told you it was easy.
It’s an elitist, highbrow philosophy that I’ve had to realize is flawed (well, mostly) and illogical. And if there’s one thing I am besides cynical it’s logical. By my reckoning, if logic cannot be applied to a something, then the it deserves little consideration. So, my widely held view that popular things are akin to something brown you leave in the toilet had to be revised, rethought and redressed.
Replete with a new perspective on life I charged out into the world and proceeded to apply the very same snobby views to nearly anything popular I encountered. Hey, I’m a work in progress. What can I say?
Anyway, back to Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden and those abominable book covers. I find them awful mostly because I don’t think they represent the quality or the style of writing that hides behind them. The covers are so resplendent in their simpleminded conveyance of the subject matter that I can only hold them in the highest contempt. If it weren’t for my good friend Andy, I might never have gotten past them.
It is perhaps a little ironic that the copy of Storm Front that he loaned me was an older edition that featured a more subtle take on the world of The Dresden Files, and I found that, along with Andy’s description of the writing to be reason enough to give Storm Front a try. And I’m so glad that I did.
Harry Dresden is a wizard, you see. And a smart-assed private detective for hire. He’ll find lost items, lost people, investigate your boogie men, and he even helps out the police with the odd paranormal related murder case. For a fee, of course. In Dresden’s world magic is very real. Vampires, werewolves, faeries, and wizards roam freely among the ordinary citizenry. And occasionally they misbehave. That’s where Harry comes in.
It seems a dark wizard is loose on the streets of The Windy City. He’s already killed two people, somehow remotely ripping their hearts from their chests. Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, Director of Special Investigations (which roughly translates to the weird stuff), has been tasked with finding out who, how, and why. Harry is Detective Murphy’s ace in the hole when it comes to the weird, paranormal, and unexplained. She’s called him in to help, and as bad as he needs the money he isn’t turning his nose up at any job. But when it rains, it pours. And when Harry lands another badly needed job finding a desperate woman’s vanished husband, the killings, the missing person’s case, the Chicago mob, and the local Vampiress-operated brothel all seem to converge into a series of strange coincidences that land Harry in hot water. With the cops, the mob, the Vampiress, and the mysterious White Council hot on his heels, Harry realizes he has to crack the case, or he’s finished.
The characters in Storm Front are pretty stereotypical for noir and crime fiction. You have the tough, female police detective that’s out to prove herself. She needs Harry, so she works with him. But somewhere along the way she’s started to care. She just can’t be overt about it. You see, she’s a tough girl. Showing emotion wouldn’t fit the mold, now would it? You’ve got a damsel in distress that may or may not be what she seems, and the stereotypical sexy reporter who’s always trying to get the next scoop. She flirts with Harry and pretends that she’s only in it for the story. And despite Harry’s aloofness, obvious poverty, and occasional disregard for good hygiene, nearly all of the women that he comes in contact with seem to be at least a little bit attracted to him, and almost always disarmed by his sarcastic wit and good humor. Don’t let this deter you, though. The typical characters lend themselves to the story and the world they inhabit. The mean (and cursed) streets of Chicago are well defined. The characters seem to fit comfortably into the environments that Butcher has drawn for them to live in and it’s easy for the reader to feel fully immersed in the story. I’ve never been to Chicago, but Butcher does a damned good job of convincing me that he has.
Storm Front is part crime noir and part fantasy, with a dash (a scoop really) of comedy thrown in for good measure. Butcher combines these ingredients to formulate one of the most fun books I’ve ever had the good fortune to read, crappy cover art not withstanding. The writing is straight forward, engaging, and at times hilarious. Not many books make me laugh out loud, but this one did. I flipped pages so quickly sometimes I felt like I was almost being unkind to Butcher’s skill with prose. But I was possessed of a need to get to the end. To find out whodunit. And this is where Butcher really excels. He writes a damned fine murder mystery that is completely unencumbered by all of the usual trappings of fantasy literature, even if he’s traded them for noir conventions.
In this case, dear readers, there has never been a truer application of the cliché “Never judge a book by its cover”. Storm Front is worth your dime and your time.
Until next time, Kirk out.