Author Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher will discuss and sign “Cold Days” at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Barnes & Noble, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie. Tickets to establish signing line order will be distributed starting at 9 a.m. to customers with a copy of “Cold Days” and a receipt from Barnes & Noble. For more information: (847) 676-2230.
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:19AM
Harry Dresden is not your average, everyday private eye. Sure, he follows clues, throws down with bad guys, romances the ladies, solves the mystery, saves the day. He has trouble with authority, a penchant for bad jokes and — beneath that cynical, butt-kicking exterior — an emotional and moral core as soft, sweet and consistent as a Twinkie.
But Harry has a few more tools at his disposal than most of his detective brethren, especially when it’s time to fight. He can cast spells. He can track suspects through the streets of Chicago, his hometown, with a strand of their hair or a drop of their blood. He can incinerate entire buildings with firestorms conjured by his outstretched hands. One of his sidekicks is an ancient magic spirit named Bob who lives inside a skull. Some of his best friends are University of Chicago students who patrol the South Side as giant wolves. And over the years he’s fought vampires, deranged sorcerers, malevolent faeries and other obstreperous, scheming or downright nasty beings from the Nevernever, a magical dimension parallel to the reality you and I inhabit.
Harry Dresden, you see, is a professional wizard and a private eye — a mashup of Gandalf and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, with a smattering of Spider-Man’s wisecracking, smack-talking insecurity thrown in for good measure. He’s also the hero of the Dresden Files, a series of highly entertaining, increasingly complex novels by Jim Butcher, a Missouri-based author who started the series when he was 25 and whose latest entry, “Cold Days” (Roc, $27), comes out this week.
“When I started, I was pretty sure I was going to be writing some goofy little wizard novels that might make me some part-time money and would hopefully lead to something I could do better,” Butcher, now 41, says in an interview from his home in Independence, Mo. “But as it turned out, they took off.”
Did they ever. After slowly building a word-of-mouth following, the Dresden series finally hit the best seller lists with the eighth installment, “Proven Guilty” (2006), after which the attention from a short-lived TV adaptation on the Syfy Channel pushed the ninth book, “White Night” (2007), to No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list. The last three Dresden novels have landed at No. 1.
In “Cold Days,” the 14th, comes the culmination of a three-part mid-series sequence that began with 2010’s “Changes,” in which Harry is apparently murdered at the end. Now, a resurrected Harry finds himself in indentured servitude to Mab, the frightening Queen of Winter, who commands him to assassinate her own daughter. But why? The search for answers takes Harry on a journey through the Nevernever and various precincts of Chicago, ending in a full-scale assault and shootout on an uncharted island in the middle of Lake Michigan.
It’s back to business as usual, in short, for Harry, who spent last year’s “Ghost Story” operating under the strong impression that he was dead. He was wrong, it turned out, and thank goodness, because what would we do without him? Still, even if the rumors of Harry’s demise turned out to be premature, they augured a grim future for our favorite wizard: an eventual end to the Dresden Files.
“I’m one of those people who think that stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end, and then they’re over, and then you tell the next story,” Butcher says. “From the beginning, I envisioned this as a roughly 20-book series with an apocalyptic capstone trilogy at the end of it. And that’s where it’s still headed. It might be a bit more or less than 20, depending on how I develop things in the next few books, and on whether Harry survives that long. He’s already blown that one, once.”
For now, though, Dresden fans can rejoice that they still have several more installments to enjoy. Chicago readers have an extra layer of appreciation of the way Butcher uses aspects of the Windy City — which he never actually visited until 2006, relying instead on the Internet and intelligence from a network of local contacts — to enliven Harry’s adventures. In one book, for example, he ventures into Undertown, a dark and scary realm situated in the real-life tunnels deep beneath the Loop. In several books, he visits his own grave — dug for him years ago in anticipation of the eventuality — in Graceland Cemetery. Perhaps most memorably, in 2005’s “Dead Beat,” Harry solves a last-minute transportation problem by reanimating Sue, the Field Museum’s famous T-Rex, and riding on her back all the way up Lake Shore Drive to Evanston.
“I saw Sue on the History Channel and thought, ‘Whoa! I’ve gotta use that,’ ” Butcher recalls with a smile. “Took me a few years to figure out how to get her into the story, but I did it.”
With Harry Dresden, it turns out, anything is possible.
Kevin Nance is a local freelance writer.