Tag Archives: noir

Small Favor

If one almost-enemy asks you to go rescue another almost-enemy, I’m not sure how the personal math on that works out. Do they add up to more than one enemy total and you shouldn’t do it? Is it a multiplier effect, and in fact you will have less enemy than ever? Of course, if you’re Harry Dresden, the kind of people who are asking for a Small Favor of this type are unlikely to be the kind of people you get to ignore, so it’s not like you have much of a choice. But I still wonder.

This particular book had the fairies and the Knights with their special magical swords and the mob again, and the last one had vampires, so I’m assuming the next one will be mostly wizard-related. (I’m not saying there is a definite pattern, I’m just saying there might be.) Beyond that, I don’t want to say a lot about the plot, partly because it’s still a mystery series and anything I tell you is something the author doesn’t get to present just so, and partly because I am spoiler-shy about these particular books right now. That said, the massive spoiler I have for two books from now did allow me to take note of a lot of pretty heavy foreshadowing, which mostly leaves me impressed that Butcher knows what’s coming so far in advance. I mean, it’s one thing to know he has a long term plan for the story and another to realize he knows years in advance what steps he will take along the way. So: cool.

Another thing I like about this book (and I think the series in general) is how Harry is basically playing high stakes poker without ever getting a chance to look at his hole cards. From one moment to the next, as each new horrible and/or death-defying event occurs, his move is to raise, faster than the bad guys can call. Sometimes it feels like, to slightly muddle my metaphor, the only reason the house of cards doesn’t fall is that he’s building it too fast for gravity to catch on that something isn’t quite right. The cool thing about this method of plotting is that it doesn’t give you a lot of time to think, which is fair since Harry never seems to have much either, and also any time the cards do start to fall, you feel it. A lot. And yet, it seems mostly to work. At the end of any given tale, Harry has won a little or held his ground, only rarely slipping back any. And he certainly never loses really big. Well, y’know, yet anyway.

Meanwhile, though, the book? I don’t know what Roc is thinking with their new paperback design, but I want to go on record as finding them to be godawful. It’s the wrong size for shelves and the wrong shape for the words on the page. My eyes hurt before I finished the first chapter. Too tall, too thin, the angles were wrong in the same way that an eldritch Lovecraftian horror is. The upshot of this is that I am a bigger fan than ever of the problem-solving capabilities of my Kindle and also I’m still not sure how I feel about reading paper books now that the new world has opened up to me. But the next book I read, definitely. Definitely. So I’ll let you know.

Also, apropos of nothing else I’ve written here besides the part with the Dresden Files tag, but I’m an ever bigger fan of Karrin Murphy. Best normal person in a supernatural series? Possibly!

White Night

I’ve reached a crisis point in my reading of the Dresden Files. See, there’s always (by which I mean starting in the third book or so) been a long-term story being told, and I know this. Plus, there’s always been continuity, and I know this too. But until White Night, I’ve been able to pick up each new book and just read it, and remember enough about the previous continuity and the long-term story to do just fine. Now, though…

Don’t get me wrong, I remembered enough to keep up with Harry Dresden’s rampage through the spirit world in response to the recent murders of magic-sensitive women, that took him through several trips down memory lane and culminated in, as usual, mostly everybody but Harry winning big[1], but there was at least one world-shaking revelation that lacked the punch I think it should have had. And I know it’s only going to get worse. So now what?

If there were a lot of books left, obviously I’d just read them. But the truth of the matter is, I’m only a few behind now, and there are (I believe) quite a few to come, as yet unwritten. So if I were to rush it now, I’d just have the same problem in October. So I guess I’ll just stick with what I’m doing? (I do kind of wish I could do online research without fear of massive spoilers, though.)

Oh, anyway, I did want to say that I continue to be intrigued by Harry’s emotional ups and downs. Struggle with sexism? Sort of. Really, he embraces it, but I have the impression that the more he talks about it, the more he is trying to figure out a better way. Anger issues? Big time. Too much paranoia (or justified fear) to work well with others? Oh, my, yes. But he’s still unquestionably a good guy, and that’s what I like best about him. The nuances. He’s an interesting, interesting person.

[1] At least he continues to win small.

Proven Guilty

The only problem I have with the Dresden Files series, at least for right now, is the pretense that there is a broader world beyond the bounds of Chicago in which things are happening over which our wizarding hero Harry (no, not that one; the cool one, Harry Dresden) has no influence and can only react to when odds and ends of it affect his city and the lives of his nearest and dearest. I mean, that’s factually true, which I suppose makes some kind of case for it not being a pretense at all and me just filling a paragraph with lies for the sake of volume. But the thing is, we all know that sooner or later these world-shaking events will drop onto Harry’s doorstep and he’ll be forced to deal with them[1], and while that will make for an exciting plotline, it’s still somewhat disappointing that the depth of world will be proven a bit of a pretense after all and it really was all about Harry Dresden, start to finish.

On the bright side, Proven Guilty is yet another entry in a long and seemingly unstoppable series of books designed solely to justify making it all about Harry by presenting a cool, funny hero who is always clawing his way out of the hole with equal parts style, honor, and romantic frustration.[2] In this case, much to my delight, he’s doing all of that at a horror convention that is being stalked by exactly the kinds of horror icons the fans are there to see, more or less. Stir in a new practitioner of the dark arts on the loose and Harry’s new duties to take care of that kind of problem, plus all the usual suspects (good and bad), and you have, well, a book of the Dresden Files, which alone is enough to pretty much guarantee a good time.

[1] In fact, this has already happened at least once.
[2] The many, many series of urban fantasy with female protagonists seem to have as a common thread how irresistible said protagonists are and how much sex they either could or do have, depending on whether they’re co-filed into the paranormal romance section of the bookstore. The Dresden Files, in addition to being just about the only one with a male protagonist in the first place, also seems to be about the only one without any supernatural powers of sexiness for the protagonist. This leads me to no particular conclusion, but what with my psychology hobbyism, I can’t help forming questions.

The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle

If you had never heard of Harry Dresden before and didn’t want to sink much time or effort into deciding how you felt about the idea of reading his series, Welcome to the Jungle would be an excellent jumping-off point. For one thing, it is a prequel to the first book, so it’s not like spoilers are really possible. For another, the short format-limits of a reasonably sized graphic novel make it a pretty small time investment, and the high ratio of art to dialogue (even counting Harry’s omnipresent first-person monologue) makes that investment even smaller. In point of fact, I read the majority of the story around listening to a friend’s disco cover band playing at an area strip club. There were distractions galore, is all I’m saying, and yet it went by with surprising quickness.

For the as-yet uninitiated, Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only freelance wizard. In practice, this means that he sometimes helps people with minor tasks that could usually be done non-magically just as well, but mostly he assists the Chicago PD when weird things happen that nobody can explain. Like a zoo groundskeeper being violently killed, purportedly by a gorilla who obviously couldn’t have done it except that people like that answer better than some kind of magic bugaboo as culprit. Mix in a hellhound, a damsel in distress, and a power-hungry mastermind and you’ve got the makings of a quick and dirty mystery that does a fine job of introducing our Harry to my hypothetical too-busy-to-read populace. Enjoy!

Dead Beat

In retrospect, this has been happening for a little while; I just didn’t notice until it smacked me in the face. The Dresden Files series has been changing, is what I mean. The prose has improved on a pretty steady incline, sure, but I’m more talking about plot and character. The series is darker, more dramatic, perhaps a bit more romantic, but above all ever broader in scope. In the first book, Harry Dresden’s case files were affecting, at most, small elements of Chicagoan life, whereas by the advent of Dead Beat, he is involved not only with the current and future status of the White Council[1] and the hierarchy of all three kinds of vampires[2], but with the actual fate of the world. (And I think this book wasn’t the first time.)

This time out, the names of the game are blackmail and necromancy. In short… you know, the problem here is that I hardly want to talk about anything that happened in the book, because each moment held so much weight. But in short, a quest to retrieve misleading photographic evidence otherwise destined to destroy his friend Murphy’s career leads Harry into a race with three powerful necromancers to find their bible, The Word of Kemmler.The journey takes him from magical bookshops to burned out high-rise tenements, from the limousine of Chicago’s most powerful mobster to the shadow of its most famous skeleton, from the secret corners of his own mind to the heights of the White Council, with stops along the way for the toughest magical duels yet, for what may turn out to be the biggest mistake of Harry’s life, and, just possibly, for redemption.

[1] Which is to say, the world’s non-evil magical community.
[2] It’s not entirely worth going into for the purposes of this particular summary; the important part is he doesn’t spend the entire book fucking them.

Blood Rites

At some point between the last Dresden Files book and this one, I got accidentally spoiled for a piece of character development between Harry Dresden and Thomas Raith, a vampire of the White Court he’s been palling around with lately. (That is, of course, a drastic simplification and barely accurate at that, but so be it.) As such, it’s going to make it tricky for me to dig into the rich thematic ground here that I would and often have plumbed with great abandon for similar situations in other works. And while I could probably still kill this paragraph and start over in a theme-based review without letting you get spoiled by the character elements, these things are mostly more about me than the actual stuff I consumed, as you will have no doubt noticed by now.

After reading five previous novels, what I find that has been the most glaringly absent from the series, the single thing I could point at and say, “Where’s that?”, is porn. Thankfully, Blood Rites has solved this problem to my satisfaction. It’s like, you can only read so many books in a series and remain interested before someone puts some porn in there, am I right? And at long last, there Harry is, surrounded by women in lingerie, watching the cameramen and the boom operators as the director tries to get the shot just right. Because, porn![1] So, um, anyway, Harry is hired to clean up a little bit of entropy that has gotten all over the porn studio.[2] And as the formula dictates, he finds all too rapidly that he’s in something way over his head. Because, there’s the porn and the thing with Thomas, sure, but there’s also more fallout from the war between the wizards and the less pleasant vampires of the Red and Black courts, and at last a little bit of overt sexual tension between Harry and his long time CPD contact, Karrin Murphy.[3]

Plus, bonus awesome evil-detecting puppy!

[1] Oh, hey. You didn’t think I meant, y’know, a gradual devolution of the ongoing plotlines until all that’s left is a series of orgies “held together” by a pregnancy scare? Jesus, that would be a terrible book.
[2] Ew.
[3] I grew up on Moonlighting. Sue me.

Fables: Legends in Exile

Another new graphic novel series? I can assure you, it’s all true. For, y’know, extremely relative values of new that seem in fact to reflect things published years ago. My initiation into the format only occurred within the last couple of years[1], though, so running behind kind of goes with the territory. The Fables series got on my radar via Amazon recommendations, much as with Dorothy and for that matter Ex Machina. Of my recent new series, this is certainly the one I’m the most satisfied with.

The idea of storybook characters all jumbled together in New York, while obviously cool enough to take the risk on (since I did buy it), seemed potentially fraught with peril. Apparently, they all come from different worlds (which I will choose to call dimensions) that were one after another attacked by an Adversary (who is thusfar shrouded in mystery), and by the time they realized that there was true danger afoot, they had no remaining options but to flee from their worlds to this one, which the Adversary has no apparent interest in. Being the stuff of fables, they’re immortal, so while they all came from different storybook dimensions to start with, they’ve had several hundred years on earth as Legends in Exile to properly mingle and form interrelationships. The upshot of all that background being that the interactions were rich and often funny, with distaste, attraction, working relationships, and even unlikely friendships all laid bare. The book was equal parts Storybook Melrose Place and Fable Noir.

Which raises my other extreme like for the book. The mystery was, if moderately simple, plotted quite well and made good use of the setting. Bigby Wolf[2], the sheriff of Fabletown, is confronted with murder most foul when Jack[3] reports that his girlfriend Rose Red is missing and her apartment covered in blood. Once Deputy Mayor Snow White[4], the victim’s sister, insists on including herself in the investigation and the rich and powerful Bluebeard is fingered as a potential suspect, all the trappings of a Humphrey Bogart noir are in place, and the only thing left to do is lean back and enjoy the ride. There are a lot of possibilities for the series, since the available characters cast such a wide net. I figure, if I get more volumes in the noir vein, well and good, and if not, the creators have already proven they have the chops to do good things with the premise, at least.

[1] Well, except for Sandman, which I’m prepared to call a special case.
[2] That name still gives me the giggles, even now.
[3] of “and the Beanstalk” fame
[4] whose surpassing loveliness is storied… er, whose fabled… Dammit. The point is, she’s a looker with legs that just wouldn’t quit and a smoldering fire in her eyes that told me she’d seen enough of the world to know that it wasn’t as pretty as the stories said it would be.

Fool Moon

I cannot decide if my love for the Harry Dresden books comes from their being objectively awesome, or from them being in such sharp contrast to the Anita Blake books. I mean, sex happens, but it’s dealt with tastefully, with soft-focus lensing and quick cut-aways, and far more importantly, it is not the constant focus of Harry’s regular magic-wielding, mystery-solving lifestyle. Which leaves him some time to think about wielding magic and solving mysteries. Is the prose with which he wields his magic, the world-building in which he solves his mysteries, the characterizations that come into play when he interacts with the other, er, characters really any better than most books I read? I’m going to guess that probably not, and yet I could grab the next three that I currently own and read them all in a row without getting the least bit tired of it. Um, unless the plot suddenly changes into a situation where he’s banging the vampire chick Bianca like a drum and his cop friend starts hating him and he wallows in angst by taking up with a werewolf pack? Don’t be sexy, Harry! It’s not worth it!

But also I guess there are some specifics about Fool Moon, which book is the one I just read? Werewolves, then. It turns out that there are about 5 different ways for a person to change into a wolf in Dresden’s world, and each of them with a different name. Which sounds like pretty extraneous information to have at my fingertips, except that someone with a lupine MO has been committing murders, and Harry has to figure out who and how so he can stop them from killing again! See, and I’m still not convinced why I should love these as much as I do. We’ll assume it’s not just by comparison, and go from there. I figure the two factors that the author really has working for him are multiple interesting characters (the cop chick, the mob guy, and the skull all leap to mind) and Dresden’s voice. I’m genuinely interested in everything that Harry Dresden has to say, so this first person narration thing is like the world’s best gravy on top of a mysterious chicken fried steak. The substantial food part may be really good, or it may be mediocre, but the gravy is so great that I have no way of knowing!

Blaze

For the first time in a reasonably large number of years, I’ve missed a buy-on-release-date book. I mean, I’ve chosen to wait occasionally, but this one I didn’t even know about until months later. Richard Bachman isn’t a prolific author, but of the people who write in the spare modern style brought to us by Hemingway, he’s one of the only ones that I’m willing to read at all, much less as soon as I can get my hands on the book in question.

First written in 1973 but only recently edited and published, Blaze tells the story of brain-damaged career criminal Clayton Blaisdell’s plan to kidnap the infant heir of a New England shipping magnate. So, you know, caper story with a pretty unusual twist, which is all fine and well if I was particularly into caper stories. For the most part, the caper itself was workmanlike, entertaining without being particularly special. What really worked was the character study of our unlikely hero, Blaze. For all that he’s the criminal of the piece and in the midst of some huge mistakes, he’s an extremely sympathetic character. Sure, he had a horrible childhood and missed every good break that came his way through no fault of his own, but it’s not that I was pouring out whiny liberal sympathy for him. He’s genuinely plucky and upbeat, downright likable, while his antagonists mostly range from neutral to distasteful. I wanted to see the good things that had passed him by before start happening now, even if they would be coming from the wrong side of the books this time.

Speaking from a fan’s standpoint, it’s interesting to see a sprinkle of elements that would be spread throughout King’s[1] later works: names and places used differently in the long run, but recognizable here as half formed elements of what they would become. Still, this isn’t a persuasive factor, just interesting. The book ranks solidly in the middle of King’s oeuvre. Still, that ends up as “guaranteed to enjoy”, for me.

[1] It would appear that the jig is up, even for those who don’t mouse-over.

Storm Front

By right of expectation, this should be a graphic novel review. I’ve been pretty darn faithful about the alternating thing, and such. But then I went on vacation, in which there was a beach, and more importantly, an ocean. Also there were friends and children and laughing and a board game. And also, because I live inside myself so much and it’s worthwhile to reiterate the things that really affect me, on a bone-deep level, there was still an ocean. She had waves and a loud voice, and we had a friendly tussle in which she made sure to show me she could kill me at any moment without a thought, but that was only momentary and to demonstrate who was who; like I said, it was friendly. And just for me, flying in the face of all established knowledge on local weather patterns, she put a storm on the horizon.

If I wanted to get all cute and literary, I could use that as a segue into discussing the razor’s edge that Chicago wizard Harry Dresden lives on, between doing minor readings and finding lost objects for people and working freelance for the local police department on the stranger deaths, providing them with nudges of information here and there about things they don’t and couldn’t understand about the demonic underbelly of their world on one side of the razor, and on the other, that selfsame world of demons, black magic, monsters under far too many beds, and a council of wizards in charge of policing it all and keeping the bad guys at bay or even dead, which would probably make up for a lot of the badness if only they didn’t have reason to believe that Harry Dresden himself was one of those bad guys who they need to be poised to take care of after just a momentary magic-ethical lapse on his part. Magic is an ocean, I’d say, both wondrous and deadly by turns. Luckily, I have no interest in that kind of high-minded pandering to the gods of metaphor, and just wanted to mention what a great vacation I had, and how much I love the ocean and kind of need a permanent private beach that I could go to whenever I had the urge.

All that said, the image does have pretty good legs, especially when you consider that the incoming Storm Front is what marks Harry’s first real challenge. I mean, besides the ones in his mysterious and barely scratched past, of course. Also, ha, “pretty good legs” works really well when you consider that the book is all detective-noir, sheets of magical flame and summoned demons aside. (If I were a better, or at least more confident, writer, I’d have let that last image stand (ha!) on its own, without putting up the big neon sign pointing at it. But don’t look at me like that; you know you loved it.) So, anyway, there’s this guy, Harry Dresden, right? And he has a bleak past that won’t quite let go of him, and his job as a wizard slash consultant, and a friendly skull named Bob who helps him out sometimes, and relatively non-angsty problems with the ladies. And now he’s got himself caught up in a gang war, multiple homicides, magic drugs on the streets, police who are starting to have reason to suspect him as being complicit in some or all of these problems, and that bleak past isn’t really going anywhere, either. He’s more mature and less sex-obsessed, but it’s difficult at this early date not to find myself drawing comparisons to the Anita Blake series at its beginning. Rumor has it that they will ultimately find different directions to travel, which relieves me to no small end.

Also: I just realized I got caught up in my metaphor description of the vacation, and forgot to explain about the graphic novels. The thing is, I’m trying to take slightly better care of them than the only decent care I take of paperbacks, and bringing them all packed and luggaged and such to an ocean full of sand and water didn’t seem like a successful way to pursue that goal. Thusly, they were left at home. And now you know!