Tags: dresden files

The Shadow

Harry Dresden: Storm Front

 Premise

Harry Dresden is the only openly practicing Wizard in a parallel contemporary Chicago.  In this parallel Chicago, people know, vaguely, that there are paranormal creatures and such, although this consciousness is not entirely mainstream:  a weekly newspaper called The Midwestern Arcane has, apparently, a niche readership, for instance.  An embattled police task force occasionally employs Harry as a freelance consultant on crimes with a paranormal angle.  Besides the fees he makes as a consultant, he also makes a marginal living working, effectively, as a paranormal PI.  His listing in the yellow pages reads thus:



Story

The police "Special Investigations" calls upon Harry for his expertise, when a couple are discovered, dead, in bed, in a hotel room, with their hearts ripped out of their bodies.  The man proves to have been on the payroll of a local mobster;  the woman proves to be a prostitute in the stable of a vampire madame.

Shortly afterwards, Harry is contacted by a distressed housewife, who is concerned because her husband has suddenly disappeared.  She has sought out Harry because her husband was dabbling in magic, and she thinks there might be a connection between this, and his disappearance.

In the meantime, Harry discovers that the local representative of the "White Counsel", a self-policing occult organization, suspects that Harry is the killer, and are looking for proof to substantiate this charge.

And, seemingly unrelated, there has been a new drug making the rounds called "Third Eye", which is said to give the user the ability to see into the spirit realm

It should be no spoiler to anyone who has read any private eye stories that (highlight spoiler which follows, if you know where I'm going with this):  that the two cases turn out to be intertwined, and that the various plot-threads mesh together just in time for the fiery climax.

Positives
  • Narrative Momentum:  Jim Butcher knows how to tell a story .... he keeps events moving a long, and for the first third of the book or so, makes a point of seeding little mysteries (like, when Harry's favorite bartender gives him a package to convey to someone known only as "Mister") which require you to keep turning the pages to discover the answers.  Each time one of these little quandries is explained, Butcher makes sure to have already seeded one or two more.  Its an effective way to maintain reader's interest, and gradually fill in the background and context of Harry's world
  • Quirky characters:  None of the characters are sketched in any great depth, but there are a number of supporting characters who are lively an appealling, such a "Bob", a talkative air spirit, resident in a skull in Harry's occult lab, who is an abundant font of advice -- whether Harry want's his advice or *not*.

Negatives

Coincidence:  At one or two points, Harry lucks into important information by just happening to be in the right place, at the right time.  There is, for instance, an incident where Harry has sneaked back into a crime scene in a fit of frustration over the lack of progress of his investigation and just happens to position himself in the room in such a way that he just happens to see a crucial piece of evidence which the police have missed ... and then, no sooner has he found this evidence, then someone *else* just happens to sneak into the same crime scene (while Harry is there), looking for that piece of evidence (which Harry only found like 5 minutes before), and eventually provides Harry with the additional information he needs in order to appreciate the significance of this item.

Evaluation

The insertion of such outlandish coincidences always, temporarily, foists me out of the tale, distracting me with the loud thumping of the plot mechanics.  If Butcher had refrained from these, and provide some sort of rationale for this occurring (Harry's a wizard, after all ... why not have him go into a trance, and get an intuition to go some place at a particular time?  That would still be awfully *convenient*, but at least it would work within the internal logic of the world that is being described!)  Needlessly relying on coincidence to advance a story makes all of the subsequent events somewhat arbitrary, to my taste.

Assessment

All that being said, in spite of the convenient coincidences, Butcher does a great job of world building, creates lively and appealing characters, and held my interest consistent throughout the story.  When I finished reading this volume, I was tempted to immediately start reading the next volume in the series.  That doesn't happen very frequently.

A good story, well told, with appealling characters whom, I'm hoping, will gain greater depth in subsequent narratives.

Recommended.