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Wizard Private Investigators

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Wizard Private Investigators

Every major city seems to have one: London (John Taylor, John Constantine), Chicago (Harry Dresden), Los Angeles (Sandman Slim), Cincinnati (Rachel Morgan) and others I am sure I am leaving off. Urban fantasy has spun off a film noir / wizard subset that has some very talented writers with well-developed characters that live and breathe as well as their more popular straight mystery brethren.

Two books came out recently, Richard Kadrey's Kill The Dead (Sandman Slim) and Jim Butcher's Side Jobs (Harry Dresden), that show everything right about the genre. Side Jobs is a collection of previously published (with one exception) short stories featuring or set within the universe of Harry Dresden. This is not a book to jump into if you have not read the Dresden Files up through the latest book, Changes. Some of the stories stand well on their own, but they have spoilers, especially the last one, Aftermath, that will detract from the suspense that builds throughout the series.


The Characters That Bump Back In The Night

The Dresden Files is well established, with multiple short stories, 12 novels, a tv show and an RPG. Sandman Slim is a newcomer, Kill The Dead being the second book in the series. The Nightside series, featuring John Taylor, by Simon R. Green has 12 or so books. The Hollows series, featuring Rachel Morgan, by Kim Harrison (nom de plume of Dawn Cook) has or will be up to nine books. Constantine has been around since 1985.

Each series has it's own strengths and weaknesses, as well as patois and lingo. The universes are similar, yet unique, with magic and the supernatural mostly being hidden in the shadows and ignored by the “normal.” In The Hollows series, magic can't be ignored, since a plague carried by tomatoes decimated large swaths of the normals and the supernatural entities jumped in to save the rest. Imagine if all your food was disappearing.

All the protagonists have their own reasons for helping us mundanes. None of the five are “nice” people. Dresden might be the most understanding of his willfully blind coinhabitants. But all five hit back hard against the forces of darkness. Constantine seems to be beat up the most, to lose the most physical battles but he wins when it really counts.

Who They Are

The following are lifted from Wikipedia, except for Slim.

Rachel Mariana Morgan

A purebred witch-detective initially working as a runner for the Inderland Security (I.S) service. She procures three wishes from a leprechaun she apprehends on her last run for the Inderlander Security service and uses a wish to get her independence. She makes a deal with the living vampire, Ivy Tamwood, and the pixy, Jenks, to give them the remaining wishes for their assistance in leaving the I.S. The three create the Vampiric Charms freelance runner service, and take various runs, or 'missions', both together and separately. In earlier books, she works to remove a death bounty placed on her by her former employer as well as freeing herself from a demon's curse. In the most recent books, Rachel finds herself learning about and using ley line and demon magic, both in order to do her job and protect her life and the lives of her friends and family. She is deeply ambivalent about using dark magic, but will continue to do so when she finds it necessary. Her aura's initial color is gold, like Trent's and Algaliarept's

John Taylor

The main character of the series, John possesses the ability to locate anything with a supernatural ability he refers to as his "private eye". This allows him several secondary abilities, such as unloading enemy weapons at a distance or removing cavity fillings, or disrupting magical forces and wards by finding and removing the lynch-pins that hold them together. Taylor is the son of Lilith, who first created the Nightside. Lilith herself has stated that her history is a parable and not literal truth. This fact has made Taylor a primary target for many powerful forces e.g. the Harrowing, who wish to aid or kill Taylor depending on their opinion of his mother.

John Constantine

Although a compassionate humanist who struggles to overcome the influence of both Heaven and Hell over humanity and despite his occasional forays into heroism, Constantine is a foul-mouthed, British cynic who pursues a life of sorcery and danger. His motivation has been attributed to an adrenaline addiction that only the strange and mysterious can sate. He also seems to be something of a "Weirdness Magnet".

Harry Dresden

Harry is a wizard who works as a private investigator of sorts in Chicago (he's in the phone book, the only listing under "Wizards"), dealing with paranormal crimes and consulting for the Chicago Police Department. He is named after three different stage magicians — Harry Houdini, Harry Blackstone, Sr., and David Copperfield. This name was given to him by his father, Malcolm Dresden, a stage magician himself, who raised Harry while still performing his magic show all across the country. The stories are told from Harry's point of view in a hardboiled style.

Harry is considered a magical "thug," lacking fine control of his power, but is one of the strongest living wizards in terms of pure magical strength, as well as factors surrounding the timing of his birth. He originally favored fire and wind spells in battle, but has since evolved towards fire and force, and has recently started using earth (It's My Birthday Too and Turn Coat), Lightning (Small Favor and Turn Coat), and has used water at least once (Turn Coat). He is also an expert at tracking spells (which he uses in his investigations) along with summoning and entrapment spells to speak to faeries and other supernatural sources of information. Due to his lack of finer control, Harry often must rely on magical items to help focus and channel his magical energy, such as his staff, blasting rod, shield bracelet, and force rings. Harry has also been known to carry around many firearms such as a .38 revolver, a .357 and most recently a .44 revolver and a sawed-off shotgun for those times when 'magic just doesn't cut it'.

Sandman Slim

James Butler Hickok Stark was betrayed by “friends” and sent to Hell. While still alive. Hellions discovered he was amazingly resilient, healing quickly, so he was sent to the arena to fight all manners of nightmares and demons. He survived it all, building up an armor of scars and an armory of weapons and magic until he escaped. Leaving many angry, and some dead, hellions behind. Since he arrived back in LA he has been tracking down those that betrayed him and doing a little side work for anyone who will pay him. It's amazing who will pay him, from angels to Lucifer, and more amazing what he discovers about himself and his parentage.


Dresden Files are strongly recommended. Good writing, great characters, emotionally engaging, fun. The mythology and universe all work well together, comfortably fitting all sorts of pantheons and legends into a comfortable metaverse.

Sandman Slim is like an NC-17 version of Dresden funneled through Trainspotting. The writing is good, but less conversational, more a hyped up version of noir. I recommend it also, but where Dresden is respectful of theological issues, Sandman Slim is much less good natured, about theology or anything else. In one scene a necromancer with some sick fetish issues summons a demon to chew on his dick.

The Hollows—I live in Cincinnati so it's cool to read something in my hometown. The writing is good, but later books tend to feel more drama centered than fast moving action based. I like character development, I don't like soap operas and these occasionally slip over the line. The author is a romance writer, which perhaps colors her other fiction. The concept is great, the execution good, whether you enjoy them or not, in the later books, might depend upon your desire to read what I took to be way too much about failed and failing romances.

The Nightside series. I enjoyed the concepts and read all of the books so far. The writing is not good. It's serviceable. This is lowest on my list, because of the writing. I have read some of the author's other series: they're worse. Cool character, neat concept of a hidden London, but unless you have infinite time to read, skip this one.

John Constantine. Alan Moore. Sells soul to two demons to be cured of lung cancer. Find some and read them.

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I'll toss my hat onto the Harry Dresden coat rack. I started the series about 3 years ago, if I remember correctly, based on the recommendation of the book store staff, always a dubious choice but the back of the book description was interesting enough to convince me to buy it. Jim Butcher's writing was good from book one, with a distinct feel and tone and has only improved over time, a good thing to see from a new author.

The books read quickly as are often entertaining from the first chapter, often the first page, none of that "the first hundred pages are boring but once you get into it" crap. While the series is not fully sequential, in that you can take most any of the books and read them on their own and understand everything, there is a sense of a growing and evolving world and story. The books are rife with reference to prior books that will reward those who have read the earlier material while also being good about giving at least a tiny recap description of characters or events for the uninitiated.

Highly recommended.

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