A hard-boiled detective, sultry dames with sinister secrets, and magic spells mixing with monsters: For twenty years, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels have tingled spines with supernatural film-noir mysteries, and with the latest book (the seventeenth!!!) newly released, it’s a perfect time to dive in and binge.
Oh but what’s that, you say? Reading isn't your "thing"? You don’t have time? You’re in the middle of re-watching all of Mr. Belvedere right now? Lies, all of those, terrible filthy lies. Though the main character of the Dresden Files series is a wizard, the books’ greatest magic trick is how smooth and easy they go down, a seventeen-course meal of weird fun adventures. Unconvinced? Look no further than the first book in the series, Storm Front.
Storm Front offers a tasty blend of intense flavors, straddling campy detective novels and campy urban fantasy. Our hero is Harry Dresden, a Chicago private eye who specializes in the paranormal, and who is also paranormal himself. Harry’s always down on his luck, always short on rent, always in trouble with local vampires, werewolves, and fae spirits; and somehow also always intersecting with beautiful women and grisly crimes.
In the opening pages of the book, he’s called in to consult on a bizarre double-homicide involving two magically-disemboweled lovers, each with their own checkered pasts. He’s also hired by a mystery woman to investigate a disappearing husband, offered a suspicious bribe to look the other way, dodges a snooping reporter, and then goes looking for clues—all fairly standard detective-novel fare, but his informants are a faery who can be coaxed into giving up secrets in exchange for pizza, and a vampire brothel owner who appears, at times, as a terrifying bat monster wearing expensive sexy pumps.
The books are love letters to grizzled private dicks in trench coats slouching through the rain; but they’re also love letters to fairy tales and epic myths, a pitch-perfect marriage of genres. Jim Butcher operates masterfully in the tone of pulpy detective novels, with lines like “she had a voice that was a little hoarse, like that of a cheerleader who’d been working a long tournament, but had enough weight of years in it to place her as an adult.” And he places a fun new twist on familiar monster tropes—vampires are not what you thought, werewolves are not what you thought, goblins are … well, they’re actually pretty gobliny, but they also sing Happy Birthday at parties.
The first book in the series came out twenty years ago, so why talk about it now? For one thing, you are bored and your brain is hungry. But also the recent release of the latest book, Battle Ground, means that you can now binge your way through seventeen (again, !!!) books. Here's a charming book trailer that covers the most recent two titles:
And! For the last two years there have been rumblings of a TV series in the works, and should that happen you’ll want to be able to tell your friends, “Oh, yes, of course I’ve read the books.”
(Yes, it was made into a series once already, in 2006; but it was cheaply done, and pre-prestige television simply had no idea how to handle a story of this scope.)
I first read Storm Front in tennish-minute chunks each night before going to bed, because it gave me fun dreams, and the peppy pace and goofy characters made finishing it the easiest of possible lifts. When I reached the end, I immediately put the next book in the series on hold at the library (the waitlist is always long) because it gave me the same feeling as discovering a TV show that I simply have to keep watching.
I can think of only one feeling as satisfying as finishing a novel, and that is finishing a novel that I loved reading. The Dresden Files series will yield you seventeen such pleasures, with plenty more between the pages.