Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series kicked off something of a new renaissance of Urban Fantasy. The genre had existed before – authors such as Emma Bull and Mercedes Lackey had written works in the genre, but what made Harry Dresden distinctive is how well it combined the Urban Fantasy genre with the hard-boiled detective novel. I had previously read Storm Front, and several of the later books, but hadn’t read any further books in a while. So, I figured now was as good a time as any to revisit the series beginning.
For those who are unfamiliar with the plot of the first book, it has Harry Dresden, professional wizard, faced with two seemingly unrelated cases, one laid before him by the police department in his role as an consultant where he has to solve a series of brutal murders, and one related to his job as a wizard and private investigator where he has to find a missing husband. If after hearing the description of those two cases, your first thought is that they’re probably related, then you’ve clearly read hard-boiled detective novels before.
What’s particularly striking, coming back to this book, is how seamlessly Butcher is able to merge the necessary world building that comes with urban fantasy, with the narrative conceits of detective fiction. Butcher takes the reasonable step of combining the criminal and supernatural underworlds, and then runs with it. Female vampires normally depicted as beings of mystery and seduction? Have one running a high-class escort service. That sort of thing.
While I don’t know if Butcher had a bunch of books already plotted out by the time he published Storm Front, the book definitely does and interesting job laying some groundwork for future books, often with quick throwaway lines of dialog – Dresden’s previous master (and their fate), the mention of his “Fairy Godmother” and so on.
As far as faults go, the book runs into some problems with how Murphy is handled. Morgan refusing to listen to Harry makes sense – he’s single minded, and it’s clearly meant to be implied that his understanding of the mundane world isn’t great. However, when Harry withholds information on his client from Murphy because of client privilege, Murphy should understand that. Harry is a licensed private investigator, that’s his job. Yes, it’s an old detective novel trope, but so was having the police take someone in the back room and beat the crap out of them until they talk, and Murphy’s not doing that.
All in all, this is a good self-contained novel, and a good start to the series as a whole. If you haven’t re-read Storm Front in a while, it’s definitely worth checking out. It is currently available in print, in a Kindle edition, and as an audiobook from Amazon.com