Since we’re excited for today’s release of Ghost Story, it’s a great day to talk about what makes the private-investigator/wizard-for-hire, Harry Dresden, so great.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sold on Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden the first time we met. A co-worker was a fan of the first book, Storm Front, and it sounded like everything I usually like in a book, so I picked it up on her recommendation. I just couldn’t get in to the characters or the plot, even the setting, and I’m an Illinois native! I chalked it up to “one of those things” and didn’t look back until the audio version came around. The series had taken off by that point, and I’m a James Marsters fan, so I decided to give it another shot. The words of the book hadn’t changed, but the result was much different. Maybe I had changed since my first attempt with the book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and resolved to pick up the next in the series. I am now completely hooked, not only on the audio performance, but the print as well.
Dresden is a Chicago wizard (listed in the phone book) who has a life that just won’t let up. Hard luck and tough breaks have followed him around since childhood, up to the point that now it’s hard to tell if he’s their victim or their creator. Sometimes, it’s a little of both. Because he has trouble paying bills and rent and feeding himself and his cat, he begins taking jobs from the Chicago police department when they come across something that is, shall we say, out of the ordinary. Mayhem ensues. The cast of characters ranges from humans, magical and non, to demons, fae, and vamps. There are the good and the evil, but most of the cast engage in “situational ethics.” As the series goes on, the situations get more frequent, the choices get harder as do the consequences. Yet, as dark as the series is at times, there is always humor to it.
It’s hard to classify the Dresden books, if you insist on the theory that every book belongs to only one category. These books are a mixture of fantasy (there is a wizard) urban fantasy (urban setting, dark and violent), but dark and violent in an urban setting also sounds like a hardboiled mystery. I would put the beatings Harry Dresden endures up there with the baddest of PIs and cops gracing mystery novels these days. They also read like police procedurals at times, too, complete with office politics. The plot of each book revolves around a mystery that needs solving. Butcher never leaves the core “what is this book about?” mystery unsolved, but there are also overarching, series mysteries that continue from book to book. Questions raised in book 2 or 3 may not get answered until book 11 or 12. Clues in book 4 may not yield anything, or even make sense, until book 10. Yet, if you pick up Summer Knight and you only want to invest enough time to find out who committed the murder, you can do that too.
If it weren’t for the magic (okay, and the fae, and the vampires, and the werewolves...), these would fit very nicely into your mystery bookshelves. There is usually a grisly murder. The violence happens on screen, so if you’re blood and gore averse, these may not be for you. But, if you like twisty plots, carefully thought out world-building, sharply-written dialogue between characters who re-define “shades of gray,” then I urge you to give the series a try.
Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, a long time lover of words. You can check her out on twiter @tuphlos, or on the blogs Unpaged, Collection Reflection, or read the backlist at Obiter Dictum.