When it comes to picking a book, sometimes you want the whole shebang, the all-inclusive literary luxury package. Think of the readerly equivalent of sipping Chateau Lafite in a penthouse suite overlooking the French Riviera. Think Joyce or Faulkner, Yeats or Steinbeck. Then again, sometimes that highfalutin experience is exactly what you don't want. Sometimes you're looking for a burnt brat, a cold Bud and a seat at the annual autumn bonfire. And when the desire for simple pleasures seizes you, I could think of worse titles to pick than Jim Butcher's Storm Front, the first entry in The Dresden Files.
Harry is a wizard -- and don't think he can forget it. Despite living in a sort of exile from other wizards due to a fatal altercation with a corrupt mentor, he still confronts his magical nature daily. First, the arcane arts put bread on the table for him. Got lost items? Need a paranormal investigation? Have questions about wizardry? Chicagoland's only consulting magician is your man. (Sorry, no children's parties or love potions.) Also, his very name keeps mystical matters front and center. No child bearing the moniker Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden will likely grow up to become an accountant. Finally, his ability to peek into the soul of anyone who happens to lock eyes with him means that blending in with the local populace might prove difficult. But such powers have benefits. Bizarre murders have police stumped, killings wherein the victims' hearts literally exploded out of their chests. It's the sort of transgression only a black mage could commit, and a kind of murder only Harry can likely solve. He'd better do it quick, though, before suspicion begins to settle on the only known consulting magician in Chicago.
If Dean Koontz wrote a paranormal mystery without a preternaturally intelligent golden retriever in it, the result might read something like Storm Front. Some folks will see that as a criticism, but I don't intend it as such. Sure, Butcher's prose won't win any awards, and his characters sprout conflicting motivations like my lawn does weeds. But, hey, this is the kind of book that features pizza-scarfing faeries, bestial vampires masquerading as beautiful seductresses, and a Lothario-minded air spirit trapped in a human skull. Oh, that air spirit? His is Bob -- Bob the Skull. Heck, the climatic confrontation involves Harry staring down an evil magician, gun-wielding criminals, a gigantic toad demon and scorpions the size of poodles. You get the idea, right? Storm Front may not reach the upper echelons of the craft, but it's breezy and enjoyable.
(Picture: CC 2011 by Stuck in Customs)