~~Moved from GR~~
Storm Front (Dresden Files #1)
by Jim Butcher
Although far from the quality of the later books in the series, Storm Front is an enjoyable read for fans of urban fantasy and the hardboiled detective fiction of Raymond Chandler. Broke and bored, Harry Dresden is trying to eke out a living as the only Chicago-based professional wizard (the only one in the phone book) when he receives two phone calls that catapult him into a spellslinging spoof of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. Like Phillip Marlowe, the PI protagonist of The Big Sleep, Dresden's escapade is touched off by two cases: a mysterious death (in Dresden's case, the victims' hearts are literally ripped from their bodies by an unknown force) and client trying to find a suspiciously absent spouse. Simple enough--until Dresden realizes he's quickly becoming the best suspect for the murders. With black magic afoot, Dresden must also tread carefully to avoid violating his probation from the White Council of wizards and receive the all-too-terminal punishment for violation.
Like Marlowe, Dresden's adventure is sprinkled with an appalling number of flirtatious femme fatales, hard-nosed local gangsters and mob bosses, and suspicious cops. Like Marlowe, Dresden is idiotically "chivalrous" (read chauvanist) and has all the sexism to go with it, but while Marlowe only meets women that conform to his misogynistic prejudices, Dresden is paired with Lt. Karrin Murphy, a tough, no-nonsense cop who is vocal in her disapprobation of his sexist tendencies. (I will admit that even on a reread, the sexism in this book drives me nuts--at one point, Dresden even pulls out the old "women are better at hating" chestnut. If I started with this story and didn't know that Dresden's opinions are forcibly readjusted as the series goes on, I might have stopped here. If you're a first-time reader, don't worry, it gets better). Dresden's wizarding profession adds an additional layer of amusement; along with the stock noir characters, Dresden has to deal with femme fatales who are literal vampires, massive angry magical scorpions, wizard probationary officers with a sword-based no-tolerance policy for black magic, the pizza-loving fairy equivalent of the Baker street irregulars, magic potion mixups, and trenchcoated toad demons--all with the clock ticking steadily towards disaster.
Dresden's youthful, self-deprecating, and sometimes totally inept attempts to be the witty, world-weary, wisecracking Marlowe just adds to the fun. Storm Front is far less solid than later books in the series; the cast of characters is much less well-developed, personalities are somewhat flat, and the writing style leaves something to be desired. It feels more like a direct spoof of Chandler and procedural noir detective genre than Butcher's later, well-rounded novels, but is a great deal of fun in its own right. If you are interested in reading Jim Butcher and want a lighthearted parody of detective noir, this is the book to start with; if you are looking for a little more subtlety, complexity, and character, try a later book in the series, e.g. Dead Beat, Blood Rites, or Death Masks.
One more thought: these books are so. much. better. on. audio. They are narrated by James Marsters, and he is fantastic. The first few books probably each gained a full star from me because of his wonderful narration. So if you read this, definitely try it on audio!
Believe it or not, I've written a review of every single book in the series. I may have addiction issues. Links to the complete set are below. The starred ones are my faves.
[#1] Storm Front [#2] Fool Moon [#3] Grave Peril [#4] Summer Knight* [#5] Death Masks [#6] Blood Rites [#7] Dead Beat* [#8] Proven Guilty [#9] White Night [#10] Small Favor* [#11] Turn Coat [#12] Changes [#13] Ghost Story* [#14] Cold Days