CBR12 BINGO: Fresh Start
Storm Front reads like a novel created buy a guy who played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons as a teen and always dreamed about writing his own fantasy series. And if that’s true, more power to Jim Butcher for fulfilling his dream. I respect the effort and the ambition. Sadly, that doesn’t change the fact that the result is just not good.
The premise of this series is appealing enough. Harry Dresden is a private investigator working out of a dingy office that would make Sam Spade proud. He’s also a wizard, so he specializes in cases involving unexplainable, other-worldly elements. He has a friend in the Chicago P.D. named Karrin Murphy who contacts him whenever there’s a case that could use his insight, the way Inspectors Gregson and Lestrade would unofficially solicit assistance from their buddy Sherlock Holmes on difficult cases (albeit without the Black Magic and exploding body parts).
At the start of the novel, Dresden is contacted by Monica Sells, a client concerned about her missing husband Victor, who has recently developed an interest in magic. Just as Dresden is about to investigate, Murphy calls him up and summons him to a gruesome crime scene, where it appears someone of magical tendencies has caused the hearts to be ripped from the naked bodies of a man and woman mid coitus.
Could these cases be related?
The sight of the murdered lovers is so horrific that our lovable tough guy vomits his guts out to the amusement of Murphy’s skeptical partner (insert obligatory ineffectual asshole cop).
Fresh from his solid handling of the incident at Nakatomi Plaza
Other characters include a skull named Bob, the vampire Bianca, a mob boss, and a sexy reporter. All of this could add up to quite a fun read if it weren’t so. . .ugh, forgive me. . . amateurish. For example, Bob the skull won’t help Dresden cook up an escape potion unless he also lets him prepare a love potion. Do I need to give you three guesses as to what sort of crazy mix-up happens with the potions? Butcher also seems to have forgotten the first rule of creative writing: show, don’t tell. I flipped through the book at random and came up with this passage: “I stood there for a moment, stunned. Grand entrance or not, this wasn’t what I had wanted to happen. I didn’t want to kill anyone. Hell, I didn’t want anyone to die, not me and not them. I felt sick. It had been a sort of game, a macho contest of showmanship I had been determined to win. All of a sudden it wasn’t a game anymore, and I just wanted to walk away from it alive.”
Wake me when we’ve moved on.
The kicker for me, though, was a scene between Harry and Monica Sells’ daughter, in which little Jenny begs Harry to help her mother.
And now I’m the one losing the contents of my stomach.
According to a quote on Wikipedia, Butcher wrote Storm Front at the encouragement of his writing instructor. “When I finally got tired of arguing with her and decided to write a novel as if I [were] some kind of formulaic, genre-writing drone, just to prove to her how awful it would be, I wrote the first book of the Dresden Files.”
So yes, even Butcher knew it would be awful, but apparently it was publishable, and popular enough that we now have 17 books in the series. I’m going to assume that the author has honed his skills since the first book; I’ll let other readers investigate and confirm, though.
Now the big question, how do I avoid telling the person who recommended it to me that I hated it?