Title: Storm Front
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Paranormal Noir
Length: 384 pages, 87,100 words
Read: July 5-7, 2011
Summary: Fun read, decent noir redux.
This novel has the amusing premise of taking the straight up traditional noir detective novel, like The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, and giving it a modern paranormal spin. Now it isn’t the first book to do this, Laurell K. Hamilton‘s Anita Blake series is more or less on this model, but Butcher clearly read his source material.
It begins with the detective (ahem… wizard) in his office, and the case initiated by the lip chewing lady. Lets first address the success of this book as a piece of entertainment, then we’ll get into it’s loyalty to it’s sources. The book works. It’s a very fun read, catches you early on with the voice, and moves along at a good clip. I’d have sworn it was 250 pages and not 384. It has it’s flaws, but it’s fundamentally a good piece of entertainment. Compare to the somewhat similar Dead Witch Walking which I started recently but stopped halfway.
The voice is fun. Hardboiled, but not nearly as much as Dashiell Hammett‘s masterpiece upon which it seems loosely modeled. Harry Dresden (the wizard/detective protagonist) is observant and engaging, but he lets you know through interior monologue what he thinks about the situation. True hard boiled only implies or tells just a little. They remain much more oblique in terms of the character’s inner life, despite being first person. Now given that there’s a lot of magic and supernature creatures in Storm Front, being upfront probably helped the clarity. Even if it did occasionally leave me with a tiny feeling of too much TELL. The prose is pretty witty too — again not Hammett witty — but good, and very clear.
The characters varied from excellent (Harry, Bob, the mob boss) to just fine. The villain was kind of weak. Actually more than kind of weak. Fairly cardboard. Morgan (the memory of the White Wizard’s council who watches our hero) was a paper thin twerp too. The plot had plenty of good elements, and moved like lightning, although at times it felt contrived to keep Harry in maximum jeopardy. There seemed no reason he shouldn’t have trusted his police partner a bit more, as the only thing doing so would have cost him is a lot of worry and a whole lot of bruises.
The magic system and supernatural creatures were good too. Handled with a deft brevity as this book has plenty of creatures: vampires, fairies, wizards, etc. but they didn’t bother me — and I’m picky here. Although only the amusing little fairy stood out. A lot (like the vampire) were used jump because. The feel of many elements, like the potions and the fairies, was a bit tongue and cheek, but fit.
True to it’s noir roots, the book is pretty dark, with grisly murders and (off screen) sex. But by being supernatural, and more importantly campy, it looses that black edged moral ambiguity that the best classic noir had, making it just a fun read, free of any real comment on the human condition.