Jim Butcher,
Summer Knight
(Roc, 2002)

The Faerie courts are at war, there's a catastrophe developing in the world of the wizards, and an old man in Chicago has died of unknown causes. All these events are colliding on the doorstep of Harry Dresden, wizard and private detective, in Jim Butcher's Summer Knight.

Harry is a good old-fashioned grim detective. He has problems with women, from his returning and formerly dead lost love to the Queen of the Unseelie court. His girl troubles may be more extreme than most -- how many detectives have to hand over their souls to the femme fatale? -- but his reaction to each of life's complications is believable and touchingly mundane.

Harry isn't the only hero of his story. Butcher has created some of the best supporting cast this side of Cable Street. A pack of dangerously enthusiastic werewolves led by the cheerful Billy manage to be the least threatening creatures in Chicago. And when fairyland gets too ominous, a swarm of pizza-driven pixies make it seem like a fun place to visit again. Officer Murphy gets in a few good shots for the mere mortals of Earth, and manages to work almost by the book in the face of things that are definitely not covered in officer training. Against all the colorful denizens of Chicago, the wizard's council looks almost boring. They hover at the edges of the mystery, but even so provide a sense of a grand and long-running story that Harry enters only occasionally.

Butcher does a fine job of keeping the mystery in his mystery story. All the clues the reader needs to know whodunit are established and outlined throughout the book, but the speed and distraction of events combine to hide them. Even the reddest herrings play some part in the final resolution, no easy task when they're simultaneously providing a screaming neon distraction. Harry's final revelations feel earned instead of omnipotent. I for one couldn't help feeling sympathy with his confusion throughout the investigation. Detective work is a kind of science, after all. When the impossible can't be eliminated, how is a detective supposed to function?

Harry functions admirably, putting all the pieces together at the last convenient moment with cynical flare. The darkly humorous first-person narration, so quickly cloying in other detectives' mouths, manages to stay both authentic and funny throughout Summer Knight.

Summer Knight fuses horror, detective work and high fantasy, and succeeds in every aspect. Butcher makes his slightly altered Chicago familiar and solid without overexplaining it or alienating readers who have never visited the real city. Fans of the series will find this a welcome update in The Dresden Files, and newcomers will be fans after a reading of Summer Knight.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 7 June 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.