Faeries, vampires and homicide: Welcome to the windy city …

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is having one of those weeks – his rent is past due, the Chicago police won’t leave him alone, the mob wants to take him for a ride and he’s managed to annoy a very powerful – and ill-tempered – vampiress.

Dresden, Chicago’s only consulting wizard, is the hardworking protagonist of author Jim Butcher’s “Storm Front,” a tongue-in-cheek tale of magical murder most foul and a strong contender for Best Sorcery Suspense Supermarket Paperback of 2000.

“Storm Front” (ROC, Penguin-Putnam, New York, N.Y., $6.99, 322 Pages) isn’t just another fantasy. Nor is it science fiction. And although there’s a lot of slippery, oozing death, it’s not simply another slavering jaws of doom horror novel.

“Storm Front” is, however, one of the weirdest things to land on a supermarket loading dock in quite awhile, and required summer reading for anyone who likes a few laughs along with exploding internal organs and the occasional rampaging toad demon.

Perhaps I should elaborate.

(Sure, why not?)

Infrequently employed wizard Harry Dresden lives and works in a Chicago that’s just slightly out of plumb with the Midwestern metropolis most of us would recognize. Harry’s Chicago has trolls, vampires, faeries and a disembodied guy named Bob who lives in an old skull and dreams of sneaking into sorority houses.

This is a 21st century Chicago that occasionally needs the talents of a combination private eye and good-natured sorcerer:

“HARRY DRESDEN – WIZARD

Lost Items Found, Paranormal

Investigations, Consulting,

Advice, Reasonable Rates. No

Love Potions, Endless Purses,

Parties or Other Entertainment.”

Business has been rather slow for Harry, but then Lt. Karrin Murphy of the Chicago Police Department’s Special Investigations unit asks for his help in solving a particularly gruesome double homicide involving a high-priced female escort and a mob enforcer. It appears that their hearts have exploded from their rib cages during a blissful moment of unbridled amatory enthusiasm.

Unfortunately for Harry, not everybody wants him on the case. The mob wants to handle the killing in its own way. The White Council – sort of a Supreme Court for wayward wizards – already has Harry on double secret probation for smoking another sorcerer, despite the fact that it was an obvious case of self-defense. And then there’s Bianca, the beautiful but vengeful vampiress who runs an exclusive escort service and thinks Harry is the killer of one of her best employees.

To make matters worse, the real killer – a seriously bent sorcerer who deals exotic drugs on the side – has decided that Harry’s getting a little too close for comfort. He’s bombarding our consulting wizard with all manner of bad luck, including acid-spitting toad demons and gigantic, elevator-eating scorpions.

Acid-spitting toad demons? Hey, it doesn’t get any weirder than this, amigos. Get thee to a supermarket and pick up this paperback before it hops away on its own …

Originally published June 18, 2000

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