One of my favorite literary genres (and cinematic and comic book at that) is hardboiled noir. I absolutely love private eyes. From the classic works of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Mickey Spillane to the more contemporary versions like Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union or James Ellroy’s books, I can’t get enough of detectives. They can be very procedural, but man, I don’t care, and I just love the trappings of the genre. The bitter, anti-hero protagonists, the wanton violence, and the typically nonsensical plots just really amuse me. I love the novels, but man, the tropes of the hardboiled noir work for me in any medium. Most of my favorite films, comics, and television shows feature at least a touch of the noir genre. If you have a tortured guy in a trench coat and a fedora solving a crime that gets increasingly complicated, I’m going to find at least a modicum of enjoyment from it.
And knowing that, a friend of mine recommended reading a series of novels that he loved, and since this was the friend who first got me into George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, I felt pretty confident that I could trust his opinions. And that’s how I first became of Jim Butcher’s character Harry Dresden, and the series of novels he stars in, the Dresden Files. Now, there’s certainly a lot about the Dresden Files that could scare people off, and I totally get it. It’s a weird series. I see that Wikipedia calls it “urban fantasy,” and boy would that typically be a big red-flag to me. Now, I’m just going to dive right in with this, Harry is a private detective in Chicago…but he’s also a wizard. Not a lame magic wand and owl wizard like Harry Potter, he’s kind of a badass, walking around Chicago in a leather duster, a cowboy hat and a big-ass staff, solving various magical crimes. And yes, I know that that sounds ridiculous, and boy is it. But it revels in the ridiculous premise in a way that’s somehow not tongue-in-cheek, but still knows how nuts it is. I’ve just finished the fourth entry in the series, Summer Knight, and I kind of want to use this as more of an opportunity to talk about the series so far, than specifically the book. This series is nuts. So far we’ve seen Dresden deal with a magic drug cartel who were killing people around Chicago to cover their tracks, a serial killer who turns out to be a werewolf, and essentially a missing persons case that ends up revealing a murder plot by ghosts and vampires. Yep. This series is weird as hell. And boy do I love it. These books could so easily fall into some sort of “young adult” farce, like the repellant Twilight books with all the werewolves and vampires, but I think the saving grace of the series is the noir backbone. It’s certainly written in the vein of these classic hardboiled novels, and I feel like that that tone is what keeps the series from becoming too ridiculous for my taste. Harry is a troubled guy, full of self-doubt and a troubled past. The books are very dark, and have quite a bit of the trappings of detective novels, since Harry will usually get a case that starts out simple, and quickly ramps up into insanity involving local Mafia syndicates, drug cartels, motorcycle gangs, and all manner of degenerates.
Then there’s the fourth book in the series, Summer Knight, which focused on possibly the weirdest aspect that the previous books had skimmed over until now. Fairies. Or faeries as the book prefers to spell it. And while there is a strange Pizza-loving pixie character called Toot (yep), the faeries in this novel are more in the vein of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Though she never shows up, Titania is even a character and an established being in Harry’s world. The plot of this novel is deceptively simple, essentially just having Harry solve a murder case, but just like the other books in this series, and the larger noir genre, things quickly get crazy. Harry is approached by a member of faerie royalty, which is apparently split in two factions, winter and summer. Sorry autumn and spring, you don’t get faeries. She says that a human vessel of faerie magic, the Summer Knight, has been murdered, and the Summer Faeries naturally assume the Winter ones had something to do with it, though she claims that’s not true. Harry is initially reticent to help the Winter queen, Mab, but the council of Wizards that Harry is a member needs her assistance in some crazy war between wizards and vampires that’s brewing. Like I said, this series sounds ridiculous on its face, but trust me, they’re a blast. Anyway, Harry starts investigating the death of the Summer Knight and after a lot of backstabbing, people switching sides, assassination attempts, and a surprise appearance of a woman Harry used to love and assumed had died, he figures out the scheme. It was actually the princess of Summer, planning on using the murder of her own paramour as an excuse to go to war with the Summer faeries and wipe them out, even though that would apparently cause some sort of crazy never ending summer on Earth that would wreck untold amounts of havoc. So with the help of a band of hipster werewolves Harry knows and a young girl who is some sort of troll, Harry storms the land where the faeries live, a magical dimension called the Nevernever. He meets up with Queen Mab and his godmother Lea (yeah, he has a faerie godmother) and manages to stop the Summer princess and win the day, stopping the end of the world, and gaining the support of the faeries in the crazy wizard war.
It was a fun book, just like all of the other books in the series that I’ve read. I just love Harry so much. He’s such a fun character, with a strict set of morals who does anything he can do to help people. He reaches a point in the story where he finds out who killed the Summer Knight, which technically fulfills the contract with Mab, but instead of telling her and bailing on stopping her evil plan, he dives right in even though it could mean certain doom (even though of course he wasn’t going to die, there like twelve more of these books). But as much as I love Harry, it’s his supporting characters that really make the series for me. Unfortunately, some of my favorite characters like the blue-collar Templar Knight Michael, or Harry’s girlfriend Susan who was recently bitten by a vampire and is now off trying to find herself, didn’t make it into this book, but there’s still some great people. We have Karrin Murphy, a police detective who works for the Chicago Police Department on a paranormal taskforce, and she’s awesome. She’s a skeptic, but after a couple of books where her and Harry’s friendship have been tested by him not being able to tell her everything about the mystical world, he finally spilled the beans, and she became a very helpful ally, even attacking a giant troll with a chainsaw (because this book is bonkers). We also get to meet Harry’s former mentor, a crazy Hillbilly wizard who’s apparently 300 years old and named Ebenezar McCoy. He was great. All the characters in this book rock, and I love these books so much. If all the weird things I mentioned don’t scare you off, I highly recommend reading this great series.
Summer Knight was written by Jim Butcher.
Categories: Page Turners