Reread of The Dresden Files
Book 1: Storm Front
by Jim Butcher
Welcome to Part 2 of my reread. Click here if you missed the Part 1!
Harry returns to his office to find Monica-No-Name writing on the back of the note he left for her. Harry apologizes for being late, explaining he consults for the police. Monica is surprised to learn that.
Harry invites her into the office, and she seems very nervous. Monica’s husband is missing and she wants Harry to locate him. Her husband had packed up a few things and left, and she hasn’t seen him in three days. Harry asks Monica why she approached him instead of the police.
Monica reveals that since her husband lost his job, he has been getting into magic. She thinks the police will dismiss it as a husband walking out on his family. Harry offers to refer her to a private eye, but Monica thinks Harry’s familiarity with magic will help him locate her husband. Harry asks a few background questions about her husband, including his name. Obviously lying, Monica says her husband is George.
Monica is reluctant to give her husband’s real name for fear of Harry using magic against him. Harry gives her a sell on its bad for business for him to abuse such information, and that she can trust him, etc. Convinced, she tells Harry his name is Victor Sells. Monica thinks Victor may be using their house on Lake Providence.
Harry and Monica hammer out the bill ($50/hour plus expenses). Monica hands Harry an envelop with $500. Finally, Monica hands Harry an envelop with contact information, a picture of Victor, and a third envelop containing an amulet her husband had left behind. Monica says her goodbyes and leaves. Harry opens the envelop and sees it is made from a dead scorpion.
I shuddered. Scorpions were symbolically powerful in certain circles of belief. They weren’t usually symbols of anything good or wholesome, either. A lot of petty, mean spells could be focused around a little talisman like that. If you wore it next to your skin, as such things are supposed to be worn, the prickly legs of the thing would be a constant poking and agitation at your chest, a continual reminder that it was there. The dried stinger and the tail’s tip might actually pierce the skin of anyone who tried to give the wearer a hug. Its crablike pincers would catch in a man’s chest hair, or scratch and the curves of a woman’s breasts. Nasty, unpleasant thing. Not evil, as such—but you sure as hell weren’t likely to do happy shiny things with magic with such an item around your neck.
Harry is starting to think Victor may have actually gotten into the Art. Many newbie sorcerer’s think they need to isolate themselves to learn magic. Isolation just allows weak or untrained minds to concentrate better.
While calling hospitals to look for John Does matching Victor’s description, Harry thought he saw the scorpion move out of the corner of his eye. Harry reaches out with his sense but doesn’t detect anything unnatural about the amulet other than its creepy.
Harry thinks Monica looks very familiar, but dismisses it. Always pay attention when an author says that, particularly when you’re in the noir/mystery genre which the Dresden Files definitely has one foot firmly planted in. Not too many characters introduced so far to remind Dresden, but he does compare her natural blond to the bottle blond of the dead woman.
Monica is very nervous and cagey around Harry. She knows not to look him in they eyes, reluctant to give Harry real names, and gives Harry that amulet. I think she knows more about magic and wizards then she’s letting on.
That is one creepy amulet you made their, Victor. And who names their kids Victor unless you want them to be creepy. What choice did Victor have but to grow up, find magic during a mid-life crisis, and make creepy, scorpion amulets.
And bad, Harry. When a creepy, possibly magical amulet twitches, don’t ignore it. You will regret it. Especially when it was made by a guy named Victor.
The private investigator Harry would probable refer Monica to is Nick Angel, the PI Harry worked as an apprentice to get his investigation license. There are short stories, I’ve not read, about this. Nick Angel’s name rarely gets brought up in the main series.
Harry heads to McAnally’s pub. The pub is place that the supernatural crowd likes to hang out. Mac is used to the problems caused by wizards so there are no electronics to short out. The bar has thirteen of everything; bar stool, tables, windows, mirrors, and columns. The layout of the bar dissipates energies that tend to gather around wizards. Mac rarely ever speaks in more than grunts or single word sentences.
Harry’s calls to the morgues had not turned up Victor Sell’s body, and Harry has come down to McAnally’s to enjoy Mac’s home brewed beer and a steak sandwich. Harry talks about his day with Mac when a newspaper catches his eye. The front page is about a ThreeEye rampage. ThreeEye is a new drug that is supposed to give the user the third sight. Harry thinks its a bunch of crap.
Susan Rodriguez, reporter for the Arcane, walks up to the bar. The Arcane is a magazine that covered supernatural and the paranormal. Usually the report on bogus stories you see in the tabloids, but occasionally the report on true supernatural events like the Unseelie Incursion of 1994 when the entire city of Milwaukee had vanished for two hours. Susan had interviewed Harry when he started his own business and had fainted when she and Harry had soulgazed.
Flirting, Susan tries to get harry to tell her about what happened at the Madison. Harry refuses because of a nondisclosure agreement with Chicago P.D. She persist, asking for something off the record.
“Can’t help you, Susan,” I told her. “Wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me, et cetera.”
“Just a hint,” she pressed. “A word of comment. Something shared between two people who are very attracted to one another.”
“Which two people would that be?”
She put an elbow on the counter and propped her chin in her hand, studying me through narrowed eyes and thick, long lashes. One of the things that appealed to me about her was that even though she used her charm and femininity relentlessly in pursuit of her stories, she had no concept of just how attractive she really was—I had seen that when I looked within her last year. “Harry Dresden,” she said, “you are a thoroughly maddening man.” Her eyes narrowed a bit further. “You didn’t look down my blouse even once, did you,” she accused.
Harry claims he is pure of heart and mind as his excuse for not ogling her. While she laughs, he takes the opportunity to look down her blouse. Susan starts asking Harry yes and no questions about the case, knowing that Harry is a poor liar. In the midst of those questions, she asks Harry to dinner on Saturday. Harry is flustered and she tells him to be ready at 9 and to dress nicely. Harry agrees, still confused, not sure if agreed to a date or an interrogation. Mac brings harry his steak sandwich.
Harry asks Mac why he agreed to the date with Susan. It will be hard for him not to let slip any details about the case. Mac grunts. Harry points out she is very attractive, and he is “red-blooded male” so a slip of judgment is to be expected. Mac calls Harry dumb.
Harry realizes that his plans to go out to the Lake House to look for Victor on Saturday is ruined and he has to head out tonight. Tomorrow, Friday, he plans on going to see Bianca (despite Murphy’s orders). Harry’s thoughts about his date/interrogation with Susan dredges up the memory of past relationships.
I had been a miserable failure in relationships, ever since my first love went sour. I mean, a lot of teenage guys fail in their first relationships.
Not many of them murder the girl involved.
I shied away from that line of thought, lest it bring up too many old memories.
Mac is a lot like Silent Bob, he speaks mostly in grunts or one words, and then out of the blue he says complete sentences. He also brews great bear and makes a mean steak.
Harry is not used to flirting and Susan is great at keeping him off balanced. Harry is never sure if she really is attracted to him or if she is just after the story. With Susan, its both. It is hilarious that Harry makes the comment of being pure of heart and then looks down her blouse. He is still a guy.
I just want to say, I heart Susan. She’s a great character, always keeping Harry off-balanced, but she’s not just flirting with him to get the story. She does like him. I really ship these characters.
The Unseelie Incident sounds like it’s own book, an entire American City vanishing for two hours and replaced by a field. I wonder how the in-universe spin would explain that? In faerie lore, they often get broken down into Seelie and Unseelie courts. Summer is Seelie and seen is “good” compared to Winter. They tend to get referred to as Summer and Winter through the remainder of the novels, but Unseelie pops up in the Unseelie Accords, something akin to international law for the supernatural world.
Harry’s thoughts turn real dark there at the end. In his mind he believes he killed his girlfriend (Elaine). There is more to the story (Book 4 provides quite a lot of info as well as Book 13) and it is directly tied into the Doom of Damocles that hangs over his head.
Harry stops by his basement apartment after McAnally’s to feed his cat, Mister. He picks up his car, the Blue Beetle, a beat up old VW bug that has seen better days. Harry’s mechanic, Mike, has kept it running through various monster encounters. After so much body damage, the Blue Beetle has barely any blue on it anymore.
Dresden heads out to the Sells’s lake house up I-94. Lake Providence is a place with very expensive houses, and though the Sells’s house isn’t as big as some of the others, Harry speculates that Victor most have made decent money before he lost his job. Harry takes a look around the exterior and finds a red, film canister. Harry keeps the canister since they make great containers for magical ingredients.
The house is locked, and while Harry could break in and hex the security system, its bad “juju” to enter a house uninvited. For a supernatural, it can really interfere with them holding their physical form together, for a wizard it can make it hard to use magic inside. It’s also bad manners. Harry rings the doorbell, but no one answers. Something nags at Harry, and he thinks someone has been staying in the house recently.
Harry decides to summon a local faerie to question. He makes a circle in the dirt, covers it with leaves, and leaves a thimble of milk, a bowl of honey, and a piece of bread with Harry’s blood on the bottom. The trap is set to catch a faerie.
There are two parts of magic for faerie catching. One, you have to no the faerie’s True Name. If you no a True Name, you can create a link with magic. And knowing the name is not enough, you have to know how to exactly pronounce it. The second part to faerie catching is a magic circle. A magic circle sets a limit on the magic being performed, helps the wizard focus and direct more easily. It also blocks outside energy. A circle also can trap magical creatures (faeries) or keep them out. That’s what the blood is for on the bread. When the faerie eats the blood, it will power the circle and trap the faerie inside.
Harry summons a faerie who’s real name is quite beautiful, but goes by Toot-Toot. Harry puts just enough of his will in it to make Toot-Toot to subconsciously come here. After ten minutes, Toot-Toot comes flying over the lake and cautiously approaches the circle. Toot-Toot is about six inches tall and has a silver glow. Bread, milk, and honey were a “common vice of the lower fae.”
For several minutes, Toot-Toot circles the food and eventually his greed outweighs his caution and he dives into the circle and begins to eat, setting off the trap. Toot-Toot becomes angry and tries to escape, bouncing off the invisible walls of the circle.
“I should have known!” he exclaimed, as I approached from the trees. His voice was high-pitched, but more like a little kid’s than the exaggerated kind of faery voices I’d heard in cartoons. “Now I remember where I’ve seen those plates before! You ugly, sneaky, hamhanded, big-nosed, flat-footed mortal worm!”
“Hiya, Toot,” I told him. “Do you remember our deal from last time, or do we need to go over it again?”
Toot glared defiantly up at me and stomped his foot on the ground. More silver faery dust puffed out from the impact. “Release me!” he demanded. “Or I will tell the Queen!”
“If I don’t release you,” I pointed out, “you can’t tell the Queen. And you know just as well as I do what she would say about any dewdrop faery who was silly enough to get himself caught with a lure of bread and milk and honey.”
Toot threatens to curse Harry, but Harry is impatient and tells Toot to hurry along. Toot is a little hurt, and sulkily tells Harry he could have pretended to be afraid. Toot goes on a rant, but gets distracted by the high quality bread and milk (no preservatives) Harry has left for him. Harry and Toot negotiate a deal where Toot would tell him what’s been going on at the lake house in the last few days in exchange for Harry releasing him. Harry makes Toot promise three times, since that is close to truth as you can get from a faerie.
Harry breaks the circle and Toot flies off. After 30 minutes, Toot returns and tries to make Harry guess what he learned. Harry, impatiently, tells Toot to just spit it out. Toot accuses Harry of being no fun and reasons that’s why Harry doesn’t date often. Toot reveals that the faerie spy on Harry. Harry is startled to discover that.
Finally, Toot tells him what another faerie, Goldeneyes, told him. Last night, Goldeneyes, drove up here on top of a pizza delivery car to the Lake House. Goldeneyes said the mortals were sporting (faerie term for activity involving nudity and lust) and needed to regain their strength. Harry is surprised to learn that faeries love pizza and promises Toot to have the occasional pizza delivered up here for the help. Harry asks for which pizza company delivered last night, but the concept of different brands goes over Toot’s head.
Harry is beginning to think that Victor Sells was cheating on his wife and she was just in denial. Harry gather his supplies and turns to find a man with sword walking towards him.
“Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Irresponsible use of true names for summoning and binding others to your will violates the Fourth Law of Magic,” the man intoned. “I remind you that you are under the Doom of Damocles. No further violations of the Laws will be tolerated. The sentence for further violation is death, by the sword, to be carried out at once.”
The film canister kinda dates this book. Butcher wrote in the 90s and it was published way back in 2000, when people still had cameras with film and not SD cards. The question is, who was there taking pictures. Another P.I. involved?
Toot-Toot is hilarious. The way he gets mad at Harry for not following the routine of back and forth threats and just once to cut to the chase is priceless. And, of course faeries like pizza, Harry. Everyone likes pizza. Faeries just aren’t good at brand recognition. No one’s perfect, Harry.
Harry’s mental image of a bunch of little faeries peeking through his window is a little creepy. Apparently, that’s what these dewdrop faeries do. They also like to spy on teenager’s making out and play tricks on them.
Victor being a creep continues. Having a love nest and cheating on your nice wife, what a creep. Of course, we’re in a detective novel and still very early in the story. Is he a wizard? And what does this have to do with Tommy Tomm and the girl’s murders?
And now Morgan enters the story, the guy with a sword and stick up his backside. We’ll learn more about him in the next chapter.