Right, firstly an apology in advance: this is my first post after changing phones and the larger screen of the Galaxy S6 and different spacing on the keyboard is enough to fox my little mind. And fingers. It doesn’t take much to fox either. So, as I saw, apologies for any typos… well, more than usual!
Anyway, onto Storm Front, the first of the Dresden Files, which numerous people I know have been raving about, and Jim Butcher’s debut novel.
The concept is no longer original – but it is fifteen years old now! Set in Chicago, Dresden is a wizard working as both a private investigator and a consultant for Karrin Murphy investigating crimes which touch on the supernatural world which lurks beneath our own. Chicago has its own drug and gang crime issues, primarily in this novel headed by Gentleman Johnny Marconi, reminiscent of the mobs of Gotham City. The supernatural world is itself policed by Wardens and The White Council enforcing their own laws – which are far more important than ours, hence the fact that they are Laws – and has its own rogue and dark elements. And vampires, fairies and demons and no doubt other creatures for future novels.
All of these elements become involved in a double murder in which two people have their hearts ripped out of their chests by dark magic.
There are all sorts of influences on Butcher which are pretty apparent: Batman is explicitly referenced but there’s a whole literary lineage going back to Sherlock Holmes and Sam Spade and Philips Marlowe. Dresden is in that line of hardboiled detectives; however, Butcher is not a writer of the same calibre as Hammett, Chandler or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the book. It had a cracking pace and was decently plotted. But the writing struck me as a tad juvenile in places, a little clichéd and familiar, and his treatment of women seemed perhaps a century out of date. Rarely did he let a description of a woman go without a sensual adverb or adjective slipping in. Women seemed to consist mainly of legs (generally shapely), lips (usually full and plump), and breasts. The depiction of Bianca St Claire, the vampire madame whose employee had been one of the first victims in the book, was a case in point. Most writers whose vampires who transform tend to focus on teeth or eyes and the facial changes. Butcher lingered uncomfortably long on the changes in her breasts as she transformed into her true vampiric form.
The plotting was also a tad obvious: two apparently separate cases opened in the first chapter. A couple of potions were brewed about half way through. Not a subplot was left unintegral to the main plot; not a potion was brewed that was not required elsewhere.
Was it easy to anticipate who the antagonist Shadowman was? Pretty much so.
Now, that said, it was a decent quick read: 499 pages which you can whip through in a week. It was pretty fun and Dresden – struggling with the temptation of reverting to dark magics himself – has potential as a protagonist. At a personal level, I’ve had a really tough couple of weeks and this novel was a solid escape from that. I’ve also had trouble getting into the various things I’ve been reading recently (personally I blame Kate Atkinson: after reading Life After Life even this year’s Man Booker List haven’t gripped me like they usually do) and something with no pretensions to anything other than a fun genre fiction romp hit the spot well this week.