“My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call. I’m in the book.”
Harry Dresden, wizard consultant to the Chicago P.D., magical private investigator, finds himself not only under the Doom of Damocles for killing his supervisor, but also frequently under suspicion from the mortal police. He is called in by his one policing ally, Lieutenant Murphy, to assist in the investigation of a double homicide, at the same time as being enlisted by an embarrassed housewife to track down her missing husband. Unfortunately, he seems to have incurred the wrath of one of Chicago’s best known mobsters.
This is the first of the Dresden Files series and comes heartily recommended by The Physicist. Butcher has a good knack with plot, keeping the action going (a little too urgently… I struggled to mark the passage of time in places) and mixing several strands skilfully. Harry is also a character with promise, not flawless, a little too fond of talking to himself motivationally, but generally a fine upstanding hero. Other developed characters are a bit thin on the ground, although Murphy is obviously going to be a recurring character.
Butcher’s fine touch here, and something I particularly admired in Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, is that he doesn’t overdo the magic. We are firmly anchored in 1990s/2000s Chicago, with elevators, phones, guns and bad street drugs, and Harry’s magic is a part of his daily life, but not so much so that it is impenetrable. He’s keen on asides to the reader to explain why something magical happens or doesn’t happen, which is quite helpful, if occasionally a little patronising.
The writing, unfortunately, is sub-par – Butcher seems to have happened onto a formula of starting several consecutive sentences in the same way: “I hated myself every step. I hated leaving… I hated that my apartment… I hated to close my eyes… I hated the sick twisting of fear…” and while the apparently intended emphasis is achieved, it grates somewhat.
However, I have been promised that the quality of the writing improves in later books, so I will be carrying on with this series.