I walked through a spectral landscape littered with skulls, into the teeth of the coming storm, to a house covered in malevolent power, throbbing with savage and feral mystic strength. I walked forward to face a murderous opponent who had all the advantages, and who stood prepared and willing to kill me from where he stood within the heart of his own destructive power while I was armed with nothing more than my own skill and wit and experience.
Do I have a great job or what?
The first novel in the Harry Dresden series, Storm Front sets up a great deal of backstory for the protagonist: I'm sure this will be picked up in subsequent novels, but it does make Storm Front itself feel somewhat unfinished.
Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden (named after three magicians) is a freelance wizard working the mean streets of Chicago. He's called in to solve a gruesome double murder that was almost certainly committed using black magic. Problem is, very few magic-users could pull this off, and Harry is one of the suspects ...
Harry Dresden is more than a little chauvinistic: together with his problems with technology (his very presence causes things to malfunction) this made for some confusion about when the novel's set. It has a noir ambience, and I'd initially thought it might be set in the Forties or Fifties: then, quite a way in, another character used a cellphone and I had to rethink my assumptions. (Never a bad thing.)
It's a competent whodunnit, with a well-constructed theory of magic and a supporting cast who are vividly drawn but do, unfortunately, tend towards the stereotypical. A couple of plot points bothered me (a discarded film canister provides a major clue -- but if they have cellphones, why not digital cameras? And if Harry's a magic-user, surely he'd be able to contact other magic users while they were away from home?). And there was evidence of poor proofing (stray apostrophes) and editing ('whatever contents they contained'). On the whole, though, it was an enjoyable read, and while I'm not hooked I'll probably read more of the series sooner or later.
By the way, am fairly convinced that Dresden's cat is much smarter than Dresden himself.