Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Roc; First Edition edition (April 10, 2000)
Genre: urban fantasy, crime story
Target audience: adults
Imagine you are a newbie postman and you have to deliver a registered letter to somebody who is called Harry Dresden. You approach the door of his dingy little office and you see a little plate with an inscription: Harry Dresden, a wizard. What your reaction would be? Would you laugh? Would you run away? Would you make fun of such a weird job description?
Harry gets that (‘funny comments’) most often when a new postman is allotted to his area. The fact is that he works as the only official wizard in Chicago listed in the Yellow Pages. He makes a hand-to-mouth living finding lost objects and helping the police from time to time with some unusual (say: ‘supernatural’) cases. Not a great career or a very profitable one. Think of him as a magic wand with an attitude. A thirty pound cat with half a tail and an oversexed skull used as an equivalent of a computer database, called Bob, don’t help his image either.
In the first part of this rather large series (as far as I know there have been written 13 books so far) Harry Dresden is being broke so he has to accept any job coming his way (Philip Marlowe anyone?) . First he is contacted by a woman called Monica who wants him to find her missing husband. The guy seemed to develop an unhealthy interest in magic lately, that’s why Monica doesn’t want to go to the police. Even before Dresden manages to meet her and find out more about that unusual assignment he answers a police call for assistance. In a plush hotel apartment a really gruesome double murder has been discovered. The two victims, caught literally in flagrante delicto, have had their hearts blown out through their rib cages – rather unusual way of dying. Detective Karrin Murphy wants answers fast, but Chicago Crime boss Johnny ‘Gentleman’ Marcone wants Dresden out of the case. Monica, on the other hand, is a client who pays. What to do?
The last complication is the White Council, a body supervising wizards and witches. They had already put Harry on a kind of probation. Some of them think that Harry Dresden just might be dipping a little to far into the black magic side, and intend to execute him if there is any further hint of abuse. Morgan, the White Council representative monitoring Harry with a seriously big sword, would just love to nail him for even the slightest infringement of law, let alone messing with black magic. The problem is that black magic clings to Harry and follows his every move.
What I liked:
The character of Harry was undoubtedly a huge asset here. As either wizard or a gumshoe he is presented as that ungainly, hapless guy with a good, dark sense of humour and a horrible sense of fashion (a duster, jeans, a t-shirt and cowboy boots sum it well). He knows his magic and spells but he is forever forgetting this and losing that, dropping his staff or getting ambushed by bad guys just because he stopped to phone or have some coffee. It doesn’t help that he has a tad of a hero complex– a damsel in distress will be always his priority over such trifles as earning a living. What’s more, Harry has a rather self-defeating chivalrous attitude about women, and a seriously horrible track record with dating. Not to mention his bad luck with machines of any kind. Overall it’s easy to empathize with his circumstances.
The narration flowed easily and the book was very easy to read with lots of action. The criminal mystery was presented in an interesting way – neither very difficult nor too easy to solve – but the best, the most funny, although still a bit scary part was for me poor Harry’s Saturday night date. I couldn’t help laughing out loud!
I liked the world building as well – in the course of his investigation, Harry runs into all kinds of supernatural beasties, including faeries, demons, a vampiress madame, and constantly growing creepy scorpions. Add in Harry’s hilarious assistant, Bob, an air spirit with an overactive libido who lives in a human skull and just a dash of romance and you have the recipe for a good, relaxing summer read.
Harry is one coy wizard with too little time and/or social skills for dates and whatnots but I suppose he is willing to learn (or, at least, read a guide). Not to mention the fact that he has stacks of different pink, frilly romance books in his office ;). However, do not despair fair ladies, there is still some innuendo here and there – like one very hot vampiress-madam, owning an luxurious establishment of disrepute, and of course that pair caught so to speak in the very heat of things right at the beginning….
What I didn’t like:
Magic was a bit dumb here (mangled Latin spells and alcohol-based potions somehow failed to persuade me) and the language was overblown from time to time. Also the secondary characters lacked some depth – we’ve seen them all in other books and movies- the hard-nosed, divorced lady cop, her skeptical, deliberately scruffy partner, the well-spoken, suave mob boss, the silent barman, the nosy, attractive reporter, and a rich, desperate housewife with dark secrets…pity the author couldn’t mix their features a bit better. Especially females I found rather flat, as their reactions seemed to be limited to fear, anger, and horniness. Well, this might improve with the rest of the series. We’ll see.
Finally there was one thing about Harry Dresden which made me slightly annoyed with him at the end of the book. The guy was simply too lucky – he should have died several times wandering totally unprepared into dangerous situations and doing stupid things over and over again. A hero who survives by the skin of his teeth or by dumb luck every 50 pages or so can lose a lot of credibility in the process even if he is a wisecrack in a positive way.
If you like urban fantasy and detective stories with flawed but funny heroes (like, say Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake), this blending should suit you fine especially as a light summer read. I admit that Mr. Butcher has potential so I am willing to continue this series to find out more about Harry and his world. I am not sure I will read the whole series, though.