After reading about suffering and the Vietnam War, I was up for something a bit lighter in the reading department and so chose Jim Butcher's Storm Front
, the first novel in his Dresden Files
series. The protagonist of the novels is one Harry Dresden, a wizard who makes his living as a private investigator in Chicago. I believe that I first heard of the books back in 2006 or so when the SciFi Channel was gearing up to broadcast a TV series based on the books. At the time I made a mental note to check out the books and finally got around to doing so last week.
I watched one episode of the TV series and just thought it too cliché-ridden and, well, cheesy. The book, however, is a lot better. Sure, it revels in Dashiel Hammett and noir, but it manages to exploit the novelty of the premise well. Having said all that, I still must say that I don't plan on continuing the series. I had a handful of gripes.
First comes the more menial of my complaints. Simply put, Jim Butcher doesn't know Chicago. Or, at least, didn't when he wrote the book. He doesn't describe the geography of the real Chicago and the people don't talk like real Chicagoans. I don't doubt for a second that none of this would bother me if I weren't from Chicago but, seeing as how I am, they did. They couldn't even bother putting the Chicago skyline on the cover of the book and instead get some generic rendering. Butcher didn't even try. I mean, all he had to do was make reference to well-known landmarks like the Sears Tower to just give the book the slightest hint of verisimilitude but he couldn't even do that.
A minor point, to be sure, but I found it distracting.
More damning is that the protagonist, Harry Dresden, is a very uneven character. There are times when he's an ass-kicking wizard with a dark past that requires more illumination and then there are times when he's puerile and annoying. The book is in first-person and passages such as those when Dresden describes his paucity of experience on the dating scene comes across as simple whining. Part of the problem lies in the narrative style. Butcher likes to put Dresden into an Irving the Explainer mode. So he'll do something and then explain that such things are what wizards do in a burst of really weak braggadocio. Is this guy an adult wizard or a child pining for attention?
Butcher does, however, have a good story. How can you not like people's chests exploding? The investigation moves through various locales and there's a nice cast of characters surrounding Dresden including a vampire named Madam Bianca and the stereotypical mysterious dame in distress. There's some good noir action to be had here and some interesting genre tweaking but characterization is, overall, lacking.