Book Reviews: Storm Front By Jim Butcher
by Josh Cole
I was recently challenged by some friends to some, “light reading.” “You want the truth?” my own personal demons said, “You can’t handle the truth! Or airplane fiction! Do it!” Like it does for so many characters from so many detective novels the whole incident started innocently. Then I got in too deep. Then I stopped and everything turned out great.
Private dicks! You pay them the money; they bring you the truth. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s transactional. As every opening monologue from every detective novel will tell you, every gumshoe wants it that way. A harsh past is mentioned. The client is irresistible. A hat gently turns upwards. The case is taken.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher, the first book of the Dresden Files series, introduces Harry Dresden, a regular wizard like you or me or Tim in Accounting. Harry is also a detective.
The story begins with this wizard-detective getting a phone call. Hey, says the future client, do I have your permission to show up at your place of business and request your professional services in exchanges for currency? Are you a real businessman or is this just a put on?
Since this is fiction, Harry is in fact a legitimate business wizard.
The story goes from there. A hooker and a mobster are murdered via exploding hearts. The cops are worried; our protagonist arrives at the crime scene and offers no useful information. Later, a potential client wants Harry to find her missing husband. He (the husband) wants to be a wizard. The husband has recently, suspiciously disappeared. Harry has no insight. Three hundred pages later; our highly-able wizard-detective begins to suspect that these two cases might be connected.
Storm Front suffers from many weaknesses. Most annoyingly, Harry has to prove to people that he is a wizard using only the power of his words. Wouldn’t a competent wizard have some minor spells at the ready to convince potential clients that he is a wizard and not a poorly-branded detective? The excuse offered:
“There are powers in the universe that most people don’t even know about. Powers that we still don’t fully understand. The men and women who work with these powers see things in a different light. They come to understand things in a different way. This sets them apart. Sometimes it breeds unwarranted suspicion and fear.”
As a public service, I am announcing that you do not need to fear and suspect the wizard who cannot keep his love potions separate from his break-in-case-of-demon potions. Detective novels survive on the wits of their protagonists and a clever unfolding of the plot. Why? Because in the life of the detective, everyone dies or is betrayed. I don’t mind ridiculousness. A lot of detective fiction has a gallows humor to it. In Storm Front the only character that wasn’t too self-important was the talking skull that wanted to party.
Please don’t read this book.