Reread of The Dresden Files
Book 1: Storm Front
by Jim Butcher
Welcome to Part 1 of my reread. Click here if you missed the Intro!
Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a Chicago P.I. struggling to pay the bills. His mailman, after mocking him for his crazy claims, dropped off a late notice on his office rent. Harry isn’t your usual P.I., he’s a wizard. The only wizard to advertise in the phone book:
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advise. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other
It had been a slow couple of months for Harry. He was late on February’s rent, and it looked like he was going to be late on March. The only client he had recently was a drugged out country singer who thought his mansion was haunted (it wasn’t). Out of the blue, Harry’s phone rings.
On the line is a woman who is looking to hire Dresden to find her husband. She is very nervous and when Dresden asks her name, she pauses for a moment before answering as “Monica.” Dresden thinks she is scared to give her real name to a wizard because a wizard could use it against them. After some coaxing, Dresden convinces her to come down to his office at 2:30 pm. Harry hangs up and the phone rings again. It is Detective Karrin Murphy, Chicago P.D.
Karrin Murphy was the director of Special Investigations out of downtown Chicago, a de facto appointee of the Police Commissioner to investigate any crimes dubbed unusual. Vampire attacks, troll mauraudings, and fairy abductions of children didn’t fit in very neatly on a police report—but at the same time, people got attacked, infants got stole, property was damage or destroyed. And someone had to look into it.
Harry was a consultant for Murphy in the supernatural and she had a pair of dead bodies at the Madison Hotel. Magic The tone of Murphy’s voice scares Dresden. It must be a bad scene to shake her up.
Dresden leaves a note for “Monica Ask-Me-No-Questions,” saying he’ll be back for her appointment and heads out to the Madison. As he heads down the stairs, Dresden speculates that if magic was involved in the murders, then the killer would want to take out the only consulting wizard to Chicago P.D.
The moment I read Dresden’s ad in the phone book, I knew I was going to love this book. I devoured it, finished Storm Front in one sitting and had to go and get the next in the series. Unlike in a lot of urban fantasy, our hero doesn’t hide who he is from the muggles. And love the Tolkien nod. Dresden is definitely not subtle but is quick to anger. And snark.
I will admit, the one thing I dislike is Dresden’s effect on technology. I’ve never been a fan of magic and technology as mutual exclusive. I can get that maybe he’s sending out energy that may cause some interference, but some of the things he effects are purely mechanical and not sensitive electronics.
Suddenly, Dresden now has two completely unrelated cases coming on the heels of each other, and one is a gruesome murder. But, since we are into a noirish detective pulp novel territory, I have a feeling they will intersect before the end.
Figuring out how everything relates in a Dresden novel is always fun. And they only get crazier in intersecting plot points later.
Dresden meets Murphy out front of the Madison. Karrin Murphy is a blonde, petite woman, who could kick your ass. She has a black belt in aikido and several tournament trophies. Murphy makes fun of Dresden choice in jackets, a black canvas duster, saying it belongs on the set of El Dorado. Harry makes a deliberate point to beat her to the door so he can hold it open for her. Harry has a strong chivalrous tendencies. As an added bonus, he knows it irritates Murphy.
On the elevator ride up, Harry notices Murphy is more tense then usual. When the doors of the elevator opens, the coppery smell of blood fills the air. Murphy leads Harry into a lavish hotel suite. The outer room has all the signs of a romantic liaison: champagne on ice, rose petals strewn on the floor, low, sensual music in the CD player.
Murphy heads into the bedroom, leaving Harry to poke around the first room. Detective Carmichael, Murphy’s partner, enters. Carmichael has a strong dislike of Dresden, thinking he is a fraud and has no problem expressing this opinion. After some verbal judo, Carmichael leads Dresden into the bedroom. Dresden is not prepared for what he finds in there.
They must have died sometime in the night before, as rigor mortis had set in. They were on the bed; she was astride him, body leaned back, back bowed like a dancer’s, the curves of her breasts making a lovely outline. He stretched beneath her, a lean and powerfully built man, arms reaching out and grasping at the sating sheets, gathering them in fists. Had it been an erotic photograph, it would have made a striking tableau.
Except that the lovers’ rib cages on the upper left side of their torsos had expanded outwards, through their skin, the ribs jabbing out like ragged, snapped knives.
Harry Dresden focus on the scene, ignoring the gibbering voice in his head telling him to get out. The woman was in her twenties, the man in forties. He has scars on knuckles and a scar from a knife wound on his stomach. Murphy asks if they are dealing with magic.
“Either that or it was really incredible sex,” I told her.
At that joke, however, Dresden’s self control flees him, and he darts out of the room to vomit in a bucket left by Carmichael just for that occasion. After vomiting, Dresden thinks on the scene. Someone had used magic, broken the First Law. The White Council would not be pleased. This was definitely not the work of some monster from the Nevernever. It was the work of a human wizard.
For Harry, magic is life, and the thought of someone twisting that force to kill sickens him. Murphy asks Harry for his interpretation on what happens. Harry explains that there are two ways to do this. The first is Evocation, which is direct and messy. Harry doesn’t think this is the method since the killer would have had to been in the room and would have left some physical evidence.
The second method is Thaumaturgy, a school of magic where you perform something on a small scale to effect something larger, like using a voodoo doll. The killer would need a part of the victim: hair, fingernails, blood. Harry also thinks that the killer knew the victim and that it was a woman. Carmichael thinks this is BS, but Murphy asks Harry to explain.
“The way magic works. Whenever you do something with it, it comes from inside of you. Wizards have to focus on what they’re trying to do, visualize it, believe in it, to make it work. You can’t make something happen that isn’t a part of you, inside. The killer could have murdered them both and made it look like an accident, but she did it this way. To get it done this way, she would have had to want them dead for very personal reasons, to be willing to reach inside them like that. Revenge, maybe. Maybe you’re looking for a lover or a spouse.
Harry further explains that the emotions released during sex would make a path for the magic. Murphy asks why Harry thinks it was a woman. Harry thinks that a lot of hate went into this and women are better at hate then men are. “This feels like feminine vengeance of some kind to me.”
Murphy asks if a man could do this and Harry isn’t sure, he’s never done the calculations on what it would take to do this spell to begin with. Murphy wants Harry to figure it out. Harry lies and says he’s not sure he can figure it out.
Harry asks who the victims are, and Carmichael gets angry. Murphy asks her partner for coffee and he stalks off. Murphy explains the woman is Jennifer Stanton who worked at the Velvet Room. The Velvet Room is a high class brothel run by a vampiress named Bianca. Murphy wanders if this is a vampire territorial dispute. Dresden doubts Bianca is fighting a human sorcerer.
The man was Tommy Tomm, a bodyguard to mobster “Gentleman” Johnny Marcone who ran Chicago’s organized crime. Marcone had civilized crime to an extent. He believed violence was bad for business of making money.
Murphy confronts Dresden on his lie and wants to know why. Dresden has never told her about the White Council, the governing body of wizards, and how he has the Doom of Damocles (Wizard probation) hanging over him. If the council found out about him researching a murder spell, he would be executed. Harry tells Murphy he can’t research the spell without telling her why he can’t.
Murphy gets pissed, and threatens to stop using Dresden as a consultant. Harry needs the consulting gig to pay the bills and caves in, hoping the Council would not find out what he’s doing, or at least, understand why he was researching the spell.
Murphy walks Dresden out of the hotel, and Harry remembers his appointment with Monica, and races back to his office at a quick run because he’s late. A few blocks he slows to a walk while a blue Cadillac pulls up and a large man steps out. Two more men step behind Harry and they tell him to get into the car.
“I like to walk. It’s good for the heart.”
“You don’t get in the car, it isn’t good for your legs,” the man [Hendricks] growled.
Dresden peers into the car where a man in a sports jacket and jeans waits. The man wants to talk to Dresden and offers him a ride back to his office. The man is Johnny Marcone. Dresden glances at Hendricks, who growls under his breath like Cujo.
So I got into the back of the Caddy with Gentleman Johnny Marcone.
It was turning out to be a very busy day. And I was still late for my appointment.
Karrin Murphy’s description reminds me a lot of Buffy Summers, a petite, blonde girl that looks like a high school cheerleader but who can kick your ass. While her personality isn’t Buffy’s, the deliberate contrast of stereotypes is.
I love the banter and smart alec remarks in the Dresden novels. And they begin with Murphy making fun of his jacket and Dresden deliberately and gallantly holding the door open for her to annoy her. Dresden is a little bit of a chauvinist (as he will readily admit). He also can never pass up an opportunity to annoy someone.
The banter continues with a more antagonistic bent with the introduction of Detective Carmichael. A more traditional cop who thinks Dresden is a con artist, albeit one that does deliver results.
Damn! Having your heart explode in your chest is a nasty way to go. I like the touch as Dresden is trying to keep it together and be professional while confronted with his first ever gruesome crime scenes.
The magic of the Dresdenverse, like most of the supernatural elements in the universe, is drawn from real world mythology. We have a mix of Egyptian, West African, and Germanic with probably others I’m completely missing. There are rules to magic and Butcher is good at explaining those rules and, more importantly, following them.
Like all good noir detective stories, our hero is between the rock and the hard place (something Dresden should just resign himself to). The Doom of Damocles is an awesome name for probation. Having a (metaphorical) sword hanging over your head must spur all kinds of motivation for good behavior.
Harry chauvinistically thinks a woman is responsible for the murders. This being a mystery, the first guess is invariable wrong (and if Dresden figured out what’s going on until the end, then where would the fun of the novel be?)
And lastly, Hendricks has his nickname. Not sure if Hendricks ever has an actual line, or if he just looms intimidating and making the occasional growl through the series.
Marcone wants to retain Dresden’s services, to keep Dresden from investigating these murders. Marcone offers to pay Dresden’s rate ($50/hour plus expenses) for the next two weeks. Dresden dodges answering and thinks about diving out of the car while it’s driving. Marcone offers to double his fee (which comes out to $2400 dollars a day).
“It isn’t the money, John,” I told him. I lazily locked my eyes onto his. “I just don’t think it’s going to work out.”
To my surprise, he didn’t look away.
Those who deal in magic learn to see the world in a slightly different light than everyone else. You gain a perspective you had never considered before, a way of thinking that would just never have occurred to you without exposure to the things a wizard sees and hears.
When you look into someone’s eyes, you see them in that other light. And, for just a second they see you in the same way. Marcone and I looked at one another.
Whenever a Wizard and someone with a soul make eye contact for more than half a second, a soulgaze happens. Harry sees into Marcone’s soul. He is a warrior at heart. He gets what he wants in the most efficiently manner. He is dedicated to his people. While he makes his money off crime, he tries to minimize the suffering. Not out of caring, but because it made better business. He is furious over Tommy Tomm’s murder. His territory has been attacked and he will have revenge. In a dim corner lurked a secret shame. Marcone did something in his past he would give anything to undo, even spill blood. He drew strength and resolve from that dark place.
Harry realizes that Marcone wanted a peak into Harry’s soul and that is the reason Marcone got him alone. While Harry was gazing Marcone’s soul, Marcone gazed his. Unlike most people who get pale (or faint in the case of one person[Susan]), he just looked thoughtful. Dresden feels angered that Marcone duped him into the soulgaze.
Marcone, having taken Dresden’s measure, rescinds his offer. The car pulls up to Dresden’s building and Marcone offers him some advise. Dresden should stay out of this, it is on Marcone’s side of the fence and he will deal with it.
“Are you threatening me?” I asked him. I didn’t think he was, but I didn’t want him to know that . It would have helped if my voice hadn’t been shaking.”
“No,” he said, frankly. “I have too much respect for you to resort to something like that. They say that you’re the real think, Mister Dresden. A real magus.”
“They also say I’m nutty as a fruitcake.”
I choose which ‘they’ I listen to very carefully.” Marcone said. “Think about what I’ve said, Mister Dresden? I do not think our respective lines of work need overlap often. I would as soon not make an enemy of you over this matter.”
Dresden threatens Marcone, saying Marcone wouldn’t want him for an enemy. Marcone chastise him for rudeness and Dresden gives a smart alec response. Dresden exits the car and Hendricks gives him a dirty look, before driving off. Dresden is still shaking from the encounter. He is worried that Marcone, like a good predator, smell fear from Dresden and would think him weak.
But on the plus side, he wasn’t going to be late for that appointment.
Marcone is an interesting character. It is never personal with him, always business. He is very different from the typical Italian mobster, full of passions and outburst. Butcher describes him like a football coach and Hendricks as his linebacker. It seems to me that a typical mob boss would just have his goons rough up Dresden with the threat of more violence to come if he didn’t back off. Marcone, instead, tries money.
He always appeals to greed over intimidation.
The soulgaze concept is really neat. The ability to learn about someone on such an intimate level, no wonder Dresden and people who no anything don’t look him in the eye. Which included Murphy in the last chapter. Marcone’s shame will come back at a latter point, so don’t forget, and it is a driving force that triggers the plot of a later novel.
Dresden response to fear is to make jokes, and it is on full display here. He tells Hendricks to wear his seat belt, quotes safety statistics, and when Hendricks growls at him, Dresden gives him the biggest, most annoying smile he can.