There’s a rule to writing any kind of exciting fiction that says, and I paraphrase: “Put your here in a dangerous situation. Then pile another complication on. Then another. Once we’re sure he will never get out, send in the zombies.”
I always thought this was a bit of an exaggeration, but in reading the first of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, Storm Front, I found that adage to fall well short of what Butcher does to his hero.
Normally, I’d run, not walk away from a book that goes as far over the top as this one does with regards to ratcheting up the disaster but…
But Jim Butcher has rare talent. His prose, and consequently, Harry Dresden’s voice in your head, is amazing. The mix of desperation about what’s going to happen to him when the other shoe finishes dropping mixed with a kind of world-weary resignation makes the book impossible to put down. Not only do you want to see how he gets out of it (there are a LOT of books in a series called the “Dresden Files”, so you kinda know he isn’t going to become monster food in the first book), but you are also infected with a morbid curiosity as to what else Butcher is going to do to him before the end. (Pro-tip: Butcher is imaginative and sadistic. Never make an enemy of that guy).
A second thing that made me love as opposed to loathe this one is that the noir sensibility erases any number of sins in my mind. Give me a first-person private eye, even a magical one, and I’m pretty much going to enjoy it no matter what else you do.
So, simply put, despite seeing what Butcher was doing (obvious as it is, even a lot of non-writers are going to spot the technique), I loved every second and exaggerated crisis of this one, right until the fiery, demonic ending worthy of the troubles he’d gone through.
Job has nothing on this guy but, if I recall correctly, the book featuring Job sold pretty well. Dresden sells amazingly well, too.
My main regret is that I’m just getting to this now. Hell, I’ve been a fan of Glen Cook’s Garrett series since before puberty, and this one should have been a no-brainer. Yes, Cook is funnier than Butcher, but that’s no excuse for not having checked the Dresden Files out much sooner.
I have to thank a good friend and amazing beta-reader for gifting me this one (I always read my birthday gift books, because I like to see what people who know me think I’d enjoy). Highly recommended, but, judging by the sales numbers, I guess everyone already knew that.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His novel Outside was well-received despite not having any magical detectives in it. You can buy it here.