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I recall seeing the trailers for the television version of "The Dresden Files" and thinking it sounded like a wonderful concept; that of a wizard Private Investigator in modern day Chicago. As someone who rarely watches television, though, I never managed to see an episode. So I was delighted to find it was also available in book form.
The book starts in a hurry, with the finding of a dead body which looks like a suicide. However, all is not what it seems, as the body comes with a hidden message that only Harry Dresden, the aforementioned wizard, can see. It turns out that there is a serial killer at large in the magical community of Chicago and they're trying to taunt Dresden into getting involved. It is to get worse before it gets better for Dresden, as it seems that his brother may be the killer and so he has to find someone else behind it, or risk finding his brother implicated.
Starting with the ninth book in a series wouldn't usually be advisable, but Butcher covers for the new reader as well as any author I've come across. Whilst previous events are hinted at, they are mostly mentioned in passing and are rarely an integral part of the story. It's as if he's trying to cover for people who may have missed a previous episode of the television show, more than catering for a reader who is coming to the series late.
Indeed, throughout the novel it's easy to see how this book could be part of a television series, as Butcher's descriptive style is very visual. There are lots of colours and shapes and people and objects are in constant motion. Butcher describes events and objects in enough detail that you can picture them in your head. It's noticeable, however, that his descriptions of people aren't quite so detailed; clothes and colours are described, but you never really get a feel for their facial features.
The thing is, this rarely matters as it's the action is pretty much constant and with Dresden as the narrator as well as the lead character, he is never far away from events. Indeed, this gives the novel an almost Raymond Chandler like feel, as Dresden's narration borrows much if its from that of Chandler's Philip Marlowe, even down to referring to himself as a shamus.
In other parts, it appears that Jim Butcher writes with an eye on the medium of television. The action quotient is constantly high and there are plenty of explosions and flying colours and there are even parts where you think you could slip in a commercial break. But there is also a little comic relief in terms of Bob, the talking skull, which I found to be a little distracting at first, featuring alongside the hero pet dog and the willing, if untried, apprentice.
It's a shame that Butcher feels the need to conform to the clichés, as what he has here is a very original construct. It is this that kept me reading, as while his basic storyline isn't all that different, being a power struggle between warring factions and his characters can be found in one form or another in many television shows or books, he has this one unique factor that makes it all worthwhile.
For whatever else Butcher has done, he drops the world of the magical and the fantastic very neatly into the world of modern day Chicago. If you can forget that he's used every cliché going and get properly involved in the story, "White Night" turns out to be a remarkably realistic read. I suspect that if I were living in Chicago, or possibly somewhere else in the United States, I would be walking the streets about now looking for Dresden or someone like him. This is the kind of fiction that feels so real that you have to double check your reality afterwards.
This is the lasting effect that the novel will have on me. I found that the realism was more powerful than the basic clichés and that is what kept me enthralled. It's by no means the ideal book and it's not going to pose any deep and meaningful questions, but it's very entertaining and well written enough that the magic of it may not reside solely within Harry Dresden by the time you're finished.
For the newcomer to Harry Dresden, I wouldn't recommend this as the place to start, as the first in the series "Storm Front" might allow for a better introduction. If you've read this far in the series, I would only recommend a purchase if you've been collecting the books. Even though it's a fun story, there's not really enough depth to merit buying the book, with prices from £4.85 at Amazon and upwards. If you can find a copy on eBay from 99 pence, it might be worth it, but this is a series better borrowed than purchased.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk