Reread of The Dresden Files
Book 1: Storm Front
by Jim Butcher
Welcome to Part 5 of my reread. Click here if you missed the Part 4!
When Harry wakes up, a spring thunderstorm is sweeping through Chicago. Thunder rumbles through the apartment, and Harry realizes there was a storm the night Jennifer and Tommy died. Harry ponders whether the killer could be harnessing the storm. It would be difficult, the power unstable.
The storm is making Harry nervous, and he reaches for his gun, only to remember he left it in his lab downstairs before heading to the police station. Harry remembers that Linda is coming over soon when someone knocks at the door. Harry finds Susan Rodriguez, dressed up and ready to go on their date.
Harry invites her in and says he needs to take a quick shower. In the shower, Harry is trying to figure out how to handle both Susan and Linda without it blowing up in his face, or revealing anything about the murder case to Susan. Harry catches a flash of movement, someone is heading to the stairs that lead down to his apartment door.
Harry panics, and jumps out of the shower, shampoo still in his hair, and grabs a towel. He enters the living room as Susan reaches for the door. Mister, Harry’s cat, suddenly starts hissing at the door. With an amused smile, Susan opened the door.
As the door opened, I felt it, the cloud of energies that accompanies a spirit-being when it comes into the mortal world, disguised until now by the background clutter of the storm. A figure stood in doorway, rather squat, less than five feet tall, dressed in a plain brown trench coat, illuminated by blue lightning overhead. There was something wrong to the shape, something that just wasn’t a part of good old Mother Earth. It’s “head” turned to look at me, and sudden twin points of fire, as blue as lighting dancing above, flared up, illuminating the leathery, inhuman curves of a face that most closely resembled that of a large and warty toad.
Susan screamed. The demon spits acid at Harry as he dives behind the couch. Harry tells Susan not to get between him and the demon. Susan asks what it is. “A bad guy,” answers Harry. The demon manages to push past Harry’s threshold and enter the apartment as Harry tells Susan to head downstairs.
Harry uses wind magic to summon his staff. Staff in hand, Harry tries to use force to push it out and the demon resists it. Harry fills his strength failing and tells Susan to drink the escape potion. She does, but nothing happens. A moment later, she comes back upstairs with Harry’s .38 revolver and unloads on the demon. The bullets ricochet off the demon, only managing to knock it off balanced. Harry grabs Susan’s arm and drags her down into the subbasement.
Bob the skull asks what’s going on upstairs. Ignoring Bob, Harry and Susan clear stuff off Harry’s magic circle as Bob warns them a toad demon is heading down the ladder. Harry pulls himself and Susan into the circle and channels his will into it, just in time as some acid splatters against the circle’s protection.
The demon paces menacingly in the lab, unable to touch Harry and Susan within the circles. Harry explains that it can’t cross the circle unless one of them breaks it and they will have to stand there until dawn, when the sun’s energy should disrupt the demons form and send it back to the Nevernever.
Susan starts to get amorous as Bob warns she drank the Love Potion instead of the Escape Potion. Bob points out how well the Love Potion works. Harry is less than amused.
The demon watched what was happening in the circle with froggy eyes and kicked a section of floor clear enough debris for it to squat down on its haunches and stare, restless and ready as a cat waiting for a mouse to stick its head out of its hole. Susan stared up at me with sultry eyes and tried to wrench me to the floor, and consequently out of the circle’s protective power. Bob continued to wail his innocence.
Who says I don’t know how to show a lady a good time.
This is the problem when you set up two dates at the same time. The girls are going to find out what’s going on and then you’ll have a frog demon spitting acid at you. I really hope Harry learns a valuable lesson from this.
It’s a shame when they made the Dresden Files TV show and adapted Storm Front, they left this entire sequence out. The visual of your hero, shampoo suds in hair, dressed in a bath towel, fending off a demon with his staff like Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm would have been interesting.
It’s an exciting sequence. Butcher has this set up so you expect it’s Linda coming, you’re getting ready for how Dresden will explain his way out of this mess only for it to be a demon and things to get serious fast. We get to see Dresden thinking fast on his feet. He’s already figured out the how of his enemy, just in time for said enemy to attack.
Susan is quite a trooper in this. I don’t think I would hold together half as well as she has in this situation. She seems to fall back into reporter mode as well. She constantly asks Harry questions. Doing something familiar probably helps dealing with the stress of the situation.
And Bob was right, that love potion worked great. Next time, Harry, remember to tell her to check the label marked Escape Potion.
Susan continues her amours advances, making it difficult for Harry and her to stay in the magical circle. Harry asks Bob if he could throw the escape potion to him. Bob will for a twenty-four hour leave from his skull. Harry is reluctant, being responsible for whatever trouble Bob causes, but Bob has him over the barrel and Harry is forced to agree. Bob flows out of the skull as a cloud of orange light and throws the escape potion to Harry. Harry catches the potion and gets Susan to drink it.
It started in my guts—a sort of fluttery, wobbly feeling that moved out, up through my lungs and out along my shoulders, down my arms. It also went down, over my hips and into my legs. I began to shake and quiver uncontrollably.
And then I just flew apart into a cloud of a million billion tiny pieces of Harry, each one with its own perspective and view. The room wasn’t just a square, cluttered basement to me, but a pattern of energies, grouped into specific shapes and uses. Even the demon was only a cloud of particles, slow and dense. I flowed around that cloud, up through the opening in the ceiling pattern, and outside of the apartment and into the raging nonpattern of the storm.
Harry and Susan reformed in the street outside his apartment. Susan feels ill, experience a reaction to drinking to potions but is no longer under the effects of the love potion. Susan’s car keys were left in her coat in the apartment, so the plan is to walk to Reading Road which always floods in heavy rain. Running water grounds out magic, the demon won’t be able to cross it. Thirty yards from the flood, Susan gets violently ill from the potions, and starts vomiting.
“I didn’t think you’d last this long,” someone said.
I almost jumped out of my skin. I picked my staff up in both hands and turned in a slow circle, searching for the source of the voice. “Who’s there?” There, to one side, a spot of cold—not physical cold, but something deeper and darker that my other senses detected. A pooling of shadows, an illusion in the darkness between lights, gone when lightning flashed and back again when it had passed.
The Shadowman taunts Harry, boasting that he’s the one who killed him, and its only a matter of time before his demon kills him. Harry reaches out his will towards the shadow and learns its a phantom projections and sends some will through it to metaphorically slap the Shadowman. The Shadowman demands to know how Harry did that. “I went to school,” answers Harry.
The Shadowman is angered and alerts the demon to where Harry and Susan are. The demon starts rushing towards Harry. Harry throws a counterspell at the projection and, screaming in pain, the Shadowman promises death before his spell fails. Harry turns to Susan and tries to get her up, but she’s still too sick and the demon is closing the distance too fast.
Harry searches for a plan. He’s exhausted and was caught unprepared. The rain will prevent fire magic. Harry realizes he can channel lighting throw his staff. He reaches up to the storm with his will and a bolt of lighting follows it down and he sends it through his staff at the demon which exploded mere inches away with blue flame.
Harry’s legs give out and he collapses on the road next to Susan. Morgan appears out of the darkness, accusing Harry of summoning the demon. Harry protests his innocent, saying someone else summoned it. Morgan arrived to late to see the Shadowman and doesn’t believe Harry. He tells him in two days the Council will be here to put him to death and Morgan looks forward to being his executioner. Morgan leaves. A patrol car rolls up, and a pair of officer approach, preparing to arrest them and Susan complains that this is her worst night ever.
I grunted. “That’s what you get for trying to go out with a wizard.”
She glanced aside at me, and her eyes glittered darkly for a moment. She almost smiled, and there was a sort of vindictive satisfaction to her tone when she spoke.
“But it’s going to make a fantastic story.”
The escape potion is really creative. Turning them into wind, flowing, surging. I really love the potions, but after the second book, they almost never make an appearance. And this one has to be so useful. I don’t know why Harry doesn’t keep making it. Butcher is good about Harry learning new techniques and using them again in later books.
The villain finally makes his appearance and clearly has never read How to Be an Evil Overlord. He monologued instead of just killing Harry. He is also not as well trained. He has more power from using the storm, but is not able to stop Harry’s counterspell.
Morgan continues to be a dick, and also has the worst timing. Come on, Morgan. The guy’s naked, not the clothing options I would choose when summoning a demon.
Susan continues to be awesome. Why to turn a horrible, life threatening experience into a career enhancing story. This is why I ship her and Dresden and why it sucks that this ship has sailed. My backup ship still has a chance though.
The cop who finds them, it turns out, were sent by Murphy to bring Harry to another crime scene and are surprised to find him naked. Susan explains it away as, “Just one of those things, tee-hee,” and the officers let her go. Harry gets dressed and they take him to crime scene.
Murphy and Harry share their usual banter and he leads him into the crime scene. She gives him the run down, another victim, woman, same M.O. as Jennifer and Tommy. This confirms Harry’s theory about using the storm. Murphy reveals the victim is Linda Randall which stuns Harry. Murphy leads him through the apartment to her bedroom where Linda’s body was lying on her bed, phone in her hand, her chest burst open.
Murphy explains that Linda called 911, screaming that she knew who killed Jennifer and Tommy and the phone when dead. Murphy asks if Harry as ever heard of her employer, Mr. Beckitt. Harry just shrugs. Greg and Helen Beckitt’s daughter, Amanda, was killed three years ago. She was the victim of gang violence between Marcone and a Jamaican gang. She died after three weeks on life support. Harry is speechless, having a hard time dealing with Linda’s death.
“Well, Harry,” she said. Her voice was hushed, like she didn’t want to disturb the apartment’s new stillness. “What can you tell me?” There was a subtle weight to the question. She might as well have asked me what I wasn’t telling her. That’s what she meant. She took her hand out of her jacket pocket and handed me a plastic bag.
I took it. Inside was my business card, the one I’d given to Linda. It was still curled a little, where I’d had to palm it. It was also speckled with what I presumed was Linda’s blood. I looked at the part of the bag where you write the case number and the identification of the piece.
Murphy waits for Harry’s reaction. Harry claims to have a psychic premonition and explains what Linda told him. Murphy is pissed. If Harry had told her yesterday or this morning when Harry saw her, Linda might be alive. Harry protests that lots of people have his card and doesn’t know how she got it. Murphy threatens to get a warrant to arrest Harry. She pleads with Harry not to make her do that.
Harry is fearful that if he tells Murphy everything, that will make her a target for the Shadowman. The White Council also doesn’t like mortals to know about them and may remove Murphy themselves. Harry pictures Murphy dead the same way as Linda and apologizes and tells her he doesn’t know anything.
I sensed, more than saw, the hardening around her eyes, the little lines of hurt and anger. I’m not sure if a tear fell, or if she really just raised a hand to brush back some of her hair. Then she turned to the front door, and shouted, “Carmichael! Get your ass in here!”
Carmichael enters and she throws him Harry’s card and starts treating Dresden as a suspect, asking him to come down the station for questioning. Harry politely refuses,a saying he doesn’t have time tonight. Murphy tells him if he doesn’t show up tomorrow morning, she will get a warrant. Murphy lets him go, promising Harry that if he’s responsible, she will get him. Harry walks out, feeling “like a total piece of shit.”
Harry you are a stupid moron. Murphy is a cop, not a civilian. You accuse the white council of being arrogant and above the authority of the law, while you do the same thing. You’re working for the police, going behind their back and concealing evidence they need to solve the crime.
You can’t have it both way, buddy!
You need to either work in the constraints of the law or admit that you are as arrogant as the Council and not work with them and just work in the background. Murphy’s a smart gal, she would be able to handle it. Hell, she probably would be safer if you told her the score.
And now you’ve pissed her off, maybe forever. Idiot!
The plot thickens. Linda works for a couple that has a vendetta against Johnny Marcone, the Shadowman is in a drug war with Johnny, and Johnny’s enforcer was killed by the Shadowman. Linda starts talking to Dresden and is now dead. Me thinks there is a connection there.
The story about the Beckitts ties in to what Harry saw in Marcone’s soulgaze, the guilt that drives the gangster. Now it is interesting in a later book (book 9) we learn that Marcone, from his own lips, was attacked by the son of the then kingpin of Chicago fearing Marcone would usurp his father. It was an assassination hit. Now, the kingpin did cover it up, so maybe the Jamaican gang is the “official” story but it is not what actually happened.
So now Harry has the White Council, the cops, and the Shadowman all against him. Doing great, buddy. And you still need to solve that pesky Victor Sells job that has nothing to do with this case. Just a big ol’ coincidence that you’re hired to investigate a man “dabbling” in magic the morning after two people are gruesomely murdered.