Today I Read…The Silenced Tale

theSilencedTale-frontFinal-REUTSToday I read The Silenced Tale by J.M. Frey, book 3 of The Accidental Turn trilogy.

They have survived two adventures, and finally Lucy and Forsyth Turn Piper can settle down in the Overrealm and raise their daughter Alis. Life is peaceful for them, as they get ready to celebrate Alis’ first birthday.

But for Forsyth’s Writer, Elgar Reed, things are slightly less peaceful. His typewriter has been stolen from the Smithsonian, he is trying to help prepare for the upcoming and top-secret TV show based on his The Tales of Kintyre Turn series, he can’t write a word for fear of what might happen to his characters, and he has some kind of a stalker. But he doesn’t want to worry Forsyth. After all, any enemy he has is human, right? The cops can handle it. It’s not like the Viceroy has come back for a third time. Except Lucy keeps muttering something about “Fucking trilogies”…

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I posted the cover reveal a couple of weeks ago as part of the blog tour for the book, and today is the actual launch day for the final part of the Accidental Turn trilogy (Though I am assured by J.M. Frey that there will be a third novella coming at some point to join Ghosts and Arrivals). The Silenced Tale follows The Untold Tale and The Forgotten Tale, and brings the adventure into the Overrealm along with Forsyth, Pip, and Elgar.

This book focuses on Elgar Reed even more than The Forgotten Tale did. We spend a lot of time with him and his problems. He has always been a very specific type of person, and he’s very set in his ways. Frankly, he’s a sexist, selfish jerk, who has been coasting on writing a very popular fantasy series a long time ago. He is someone who is probably pretty familiar to anyone in fandom. Now we see his own problems, and how he is slowly starting to change thanks in large part to meeting Forsyth and having him bring Pip into Elgar’s life. They are family, which he hasn’t had for a very long time, if ever, and he does care about what they say. Even if he needs to be told a few times until he remembers. And occasionally needs Pip to verbally smack his nose with a rolled up newspaper about assuming women are there only to fetch him coffee and be groped. Though even Pip needs to work on her intersectional feminism, as we see in one particular scene.

The most important thing to remember is that this is, as Pip puts it, a “fucking trilogy,” and things must always come in threes. Three trips between Hain and the Overrealm. Three attempts to defeat the villain. Three deaths…

I’ve read an early draft at the start of this year that J.M. sent me, and recently a more finalized draft that I received from her last month. What I take away the most from the end of this book, is my dissatisfaction. I want more! I think the main story is done, but there is so much more to be discovered about this world, about both Hain and the Overrealm. I want to see what happens with the Tales of Kintyre Turn  TV show. I want more information about what has been happening in Hain, and what will happen now that Elgar has stopped writing, and how will the characters’ lives develop even more away from what he had planned. I want to know about Kintyre and Forsyth’s early life together as brothers. It’s getting my fanfic instincts going, and I just don’t have the time to write all of the stories I want. And I know that while J.M. does have one more novella planned, she has other projects in the pipeline that I won’t spoil here. So if anyone finds any fanfic, let me know? There is one particular scene in The Silenced Tale when Forsyth is telling Elgar stories about growing up with Kintyre, and I really want those stories…

Also, J.M., was that first death really necessary? You’re still not forgiven for killing Kalp, you know. What do you have against cute characters?

Also, regarding character X from The Forgotten Tale? I was totally right, and I want that story too.

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“THIS IS ABBY,” Elgar says, about twenty minutes later. He is smiling too widely, and his eyes are too bright – he is in what he calls ‘Convention Mode’: gregarious, energetic, his jokes flat and desperate, his smile false. As a fellow natural introvert, I can see how exhausting the performance is. He is trying too hard and he is too ‘over the top’ as a
result.
He slings his arm around a young woman with large dark eyes, and long dark hair. She is dressed in a great deal of bubblegum pink and misty mint, from her sneakers to her leggings, to her knee-length skirt, which is patterned with ice-cream cones, and the matching scarf over a long-sleeved shirt. She is terrifically pretty, too, very carefully
made up with false lashes and the careful sort of artistically intense makeup that Pip has called ‘contouring’ and ‘a massive pain in the ass’ and ‘a waste of a perfectly good hour of my life.’ Bless my wife, but she does reject the traditionally feminine with a vigor that nearly borders on insulting to those that embrace it.
However, the young lady before me seems to be the exact opposite of a simpering femme, wearing her pastels and makeup with a sort of warrior-like pride which I admire. She is clearly of Indian descent, not African, but I am reminded so intensely of Captain Isobin for a moment that the déjà vu fills my breast with a brief, intense stab of
homesickness. Though, of course, this young woman is neither pirate, nor captain; and unlike Isobin, not filled with the raucous self-confidence required to push my Creator back on his arse for his presumption. She is clearly not comfortable with the way he has not only taken liberties with her personal space without asking, and he has just as
clearly gotten her name wrong. Her badge, which marks her as a guest liaison,
says “Ahbni”.
“Hi,” Pip says, holding her hand out for a shake, and Ahbni uses the excuse to duck out from under Elgar’s arm.
“I’ll be able to tell her apart from the rest of the brown girls because she’s the hot one,” Elgar goes on, sticking his foot further down his throat.
Pip pinches the bridge of her nose and groans. “I honestly can’t tell if it’s the meds talking, or the stress.”
“Actually I–” Ahbni begins, but Elgar talks over her.
“You can get my friend a coffee or something, right, Abby?”
“I’m the assistant guest liaison, Mr. Reed, and I need to talk to you about–“
Elgar laughs. “Cute. No, no, grab your boss and send him my way, okay, sweetie?” And then he gives her a little shove. She steps away, off-balanced, and Elgar’s eyes drop to… oh. They drop with the full intention to watch her walk away.
Beside me, my wife makes a noise like a strangling cat.
“Lucy?” Elgar asks, having heard the sound as well, bushy eyebrows knitted with confusion. “Are you okay? Abby can you –“
“It’s Ahbni,” the liaison corrects.
“Ahbni,” Elgar repeats, not entirely sure where he missteped. “That’s a cute fantasy handle.”
“Nope. It’s my name,” she corrects.
“Oh!” Elgar laughs. “Were your parents fantasy fans, then?”
“They’re Telugu,” Ahbni says and I get the distinct impression that she is considering using her badge lanyard to garrote my creator. I am doing my best to control the urge
to laugh.
“I might use it though, you know. It’s a good name. The beautiful Princess Ahbni, with skin like fresh roasted cafe latte–“
“No,” Pip snaps, smacking Elgar’s good arm like an errant puppy. “Bad Writer. Women of color are not dessert products.”
Elgar jams his hands into his pockets and scowls. “It’s supposed to be a compliment–”
“I swear to fuck, one of these days I’m going to throttle you myself,” Pip says, deadpan and staring straight at Elgar. She’s got her index finger stretched out and tapping him right in the chest, finger-nail clicking against his plastic button. “You know that being terrified out of your mind is no excuse to fall back into bad habits, right?”
Elgar immediately looks ashamed. “I… you’re right. I didn’t think–“
“Try to,” Pip says. Then she blows out an annoyed breath, then forces herself to flex her fist out, runs her fingers through her hair, and pointedly turns away from him. “Ahbni, if you’d like to tell us where the coffee is, I can make sure that my husband fetches it for his
own damn self. And then you and I can review where Mr. Neanderthal over there needs to be, and by when.”
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The Silenced Tale Cover Reveal

I have previously reviewed The Untold Tale and The Forgotten Tale from J.M. Frey’s Accidental Turn trilogy. I am excited to say that it’s almost time for the conclusion, The Silenced Tale to be released on December 12, 2017. The cover is being revealed today as part of a blog tour, and I am happy to participate. It’s as beautiful and evocative as the previous two, and the book inside is sure to be the same. I have read (and enjoyed) an early draft thanks to author J.M. Frey, but my formal review is still to come as I have received a more finalized copy in return for a review.

For anyone in the Toronto area, I’d like to mention that the book launch party will be at Bakka-Phoenix Books in Toronto on Tuesday, December 12, at 5:30 PM. If you’re not in the area, you can also order the e-book in advance from the publisher REUTSfor $0.99 and get it by Friday, December 8, a weekend before everyone else.

While I usually like to write my own synopsis, and I will for my review, I’ll enclose here the synopsis from the publisher:

Forsyth Turn never wanted to be a hero. And yet, even in the Overrealm, a hero is what he’ll be.

After their last adventure in Hain, Forsyth expected to return to the life he’d built with Pip and Alis, his days of magic and heroics behind him. But then Pip starts suffering night terrors laced with images of glowing ivy and Elgar Reed calls with fears of bizarre threats and a man garbed all in black.

But there is no magic in the Overrealm. Forsyth refuses to believe that anything other than mundane coincidence is at work—until Elgar’s stalker leaves him a message too eerie and specific to ignore. Now, he has to face the possibility that Pip’s dreams and Elgar’s fears are connected . . . and that maybe they weren’t the only ones to escape the pages of The Tales of Kintyre Turn.

And if that’s the case, it’s going to take more than a handful of heroes to save the day this time. It’s going to take an army. Luckily, Reed fans are legion.

A stunning conclusion to the series, The Silenced Tale is a genre-bending whirlwind that breathes life into the idea that the power of story lies not just with the creator, but with the fans who love it.

And at last, the cover!

theSilencedTale-frontFinal-REUTS

See you in the book…

Today I Read…Fool Moon

Fool MoonToday I read Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, the second book in The Dresden Files. I’ve previously reviewed the first book Storm Front here.

Wizard Harry Dresden’s rent payment is late again, a student of his is asking uncomfortable questions about very powerful, very dangerous magic, and werewolves are killing people, most notably the bodyguard of Chicago’s most powerful mobster Gentleman Johnny Marcone. Great. Dresden knew it was safer to be a cat person.

Now he has to figure out how to turn Marcone’s (admittedly very generous) job offer down–after all, a wizard who consults for the police can’t really work for a mobster too. Except he might have a little trouble getting the cops to pay his bill after getting arrested for murder. And not stopping a werewolf from tearing apart the police station, and several police officers. And escaping from custody with the help of yet more werewolves, albeit a more friendly variety.

Seriously, is everyone a werewolf except Dresden?

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I know that one of the later books in the series is called White Night,  but Harry Dresden definitely has White Knight Syndrome–something that he really needs to learn to control. He can’t protect everyone, and his chivalrous efforts towards women in particular are neither wanted nor effective. Kim dies because Dresden tries to protect her by not telling her everything, and Murphy and many other police officers get hurt because he tries to handle everything himself. As a feminist, I want to smack him upside the head a little. Fortunately, he starts relying on his friends a little more in the following books, so I guess you can teach an old wizard new tricks.

I’d put a slightly higher rating on this one than the previous book due to the bloodier murders–werewolves are not the tidiest eaters. There are also a LOT of them, considering that Dresden has never met a werewolf until this case. Butcher invents several varieties, and then has examples of each one. Good werewolves, bad werewolves, in control friendly werewolves, werewolves who start out with good intentions and then lose control and start murdering people, people who choose to be werewolves, people who are cursed to be werewolves, lone werewolves, werewolves in a pack…it’s practically a werewolf documentary. Still, it’s only the second book in the series, so Butcher is still worldbuilding.

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I sat back down, frustrated. Dammit. Kim was one of several people I had coached through the difficult period surrounding the discovery of their innate magical talents. It made me feel like crap to withhold information from her, but she had been playing with fire. I couldn’t let her do that. It was my responsibility to help protect her from such things, until she knew enough to realize how dangerous they were.
To say nothing of what the White Council would think of a nonwizard toying with major summoning circles. The White Council didn’t take chances with things like that. They just acted, decisively, and they weren’t always particular about people’s lives and safety when they did it.
I had done the right thing. Keeping that kind of information out of Kim’s hands had been the right decision. I had been protecting her from danger she didn’t, couldn’t, fully appreciate.
I had done the right thing—even if she had trusted me to provide answers for her, as I had in the past, when teaching her to contain and control her modest magical talents. Even if she had trusted me to show her the answers she needed, to be her guide through the darkness.
I’d done the right thing.
Dammit.
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I closed my hands around the keys. “Just sit down and relax for a while, Murph. We need to talk.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Harry,” she said.
“This is the thanks I get for saving your life. Twice, now. You’re going to hold out on me.”
“You should know how it works,” she said, scowling. But she settled back in her seat and looked out the windshield of the car. We could see the police, forensics, and the FBI suits moving back and forth inside the building. We were both quiet for a long time.
The funny thing was that the problems between Murphy and me came from the same source as the problems with Kim Delaney earlier tonight. Murphy had needed to know something to pursue an investigation. I could have given her the information—but it would have put her in danger to do so. I’d refused to say anything, and when I’d pursued the trail by myself all the way to its end, there had been some burning buildings and a corpse or two. There wasn’t enough evidence to bring any charges against me, and the killer we’d been after had been dealt with. But Murphy hadn’t ever really forgiven me for cutting her out of the loop.
In the intervening months, she’d called me in for work several times, and I’d given the best service I could. But it had been cool between us. Professional. Maybe it was time to try to bridge that gap again.
“Look, Murph,” I said. “We’ve never really talked about what happened, last spring.”
“We didn’t talk about it while it was happening,” she said, her tone crisp as autumn leaves. “Why should we start now? That was last spring. It’s October.”
“Give me a break, Murphy. I wanted to tell you more, but I couldn’t.”
“Let me guess. Cat had your tongue?” she said sweetly.
“You know I wasn’t one of the bad guys. You have to know that by now. Hell’s bells, I risked my neck to save you.”
Murphy shook her head, staring straight forward. “That’s not the point.”
“No? Then what is?”
“The point, Dresden, is that you lied to me. You refused to give me information that I needed to do my job. When I bring you in on one of my investigations, I am trusting you. I don’t just go around trusting people. Never have.” She took a grip on the steering wheel, her knuckles whitening. “Less than ever, now.”
I winced. That stung. What’s worse, she was in the right. “Some of what I knew . . . It was dangerous, Murph. It could have gotten you killed.”
Her blue eyes fixed on me with a glare that made me lean back against the car door. “I am not your daughter, Dresden,” she said, in a very soft, calm voice. “I am not some porcelain doll on a shelf. I’m a police officer. I catch the bad guys and I put their asses away, and if it comes down to it, I take a bullet so that some poor housewife or CPA doesn’t have to.” She got her gun out of its shoulder holster, checked the ammo and the safety, and replaced it. “I don’t need your protection.”
“Murphy, wait,” I said hastily. “I didn’t do it to piss you off. I’m your friend. Always have been.”
She looked away from me as an officer with a flashlight walked past the car, shining the light about on the ground as he looked for exterior evidence. “You were my friend, Dresden. Now . . .” Murphy shook her head once and set her jaw. “Now, I don’t know.”
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We went down what looked like a servant’s narrow spiral staircase, down into the basement. She led me to the back of a storage room and pushed open a heavy, steel door there that opened onto a small, stark chamber, all of concrete, with no other exits. In the center of the chamber was another three-ring summoning circle, but this one’s symbols had been made from silver and set into the concrete of the floor. Short bars of what looked like a mixture of silver and obsidian were interspersed around the second circle, creating what would, if the circle was functional, be a very formidable barrier.
But the symbols had been marred, torn, broken. Several from the critical inner ring had been pried up from the floor and were simply missing. Some of the bars had been broken. The circle, as it was, was nonfunctional and worthless—but whole, it would have served to contain Harley MacFinn when he shifted into his beast form. The room was a prison he had created for himself, something to contain the fury of the beast inside of him.
But someone had intentionally marred the circle, made the prison useless.
And I abruptly understood Kim Delaney’s request. She had to have known Harley MacFinn, maybe through her environmental activism. She must have learned of his curse, and wanted to help him. When I had refused to help her, she had attempted to re-create the greater summoning circle upstairs in the bedroom, to hold in MacFinn once the moon rose. As I had warned her would happen, she had failed. She hadn’t had the knowledge necessary to understand how such a construct would function, and consequently, she hadn’t been able to make it work.
MacFinn had killed her. Kim was dead because I had refused to share my knowledge with her, because I hadn’t given her my help. I had been so secure in my knowledge and wisdom; withholding such secrets from her had been the action of a concerned and reasoned adult speaking to an overeager child. I couldn’t believe my own arrogance, the utter confidence with which I had condemned her to death.
I started to shake, harder, too many things pressing against my head, my heart. I could feel the pressure, somewhere inside of me, that switch on the inside of my head quivering, getting ready to flick back beneath a tide of raging anger, fury, regret, self-hatred. I took deep breaths and closed my eyes, trying not to let it happen.
I opened my eyes and looked up at Murphy. God, I needed to talk to her. I needed a friend. I needed someone to listen, to tell me it would be all right whether it was the truth or not. I needed someone to let me unload on them, to keep me from flying apart.
She regarded me with cold, angry eyes.
“Karrin,” I whispered.
She drew from her pocket a crumpled piece of paper. She unfolded it, and held it up to me, so that I could see Kim Delaney’s graceful handwriting, the sketch of the summoning circle that she had brought to me in McAnally’s. The sketch I had refused to tell Kim about. The sketch I had crumpled into a little ball and tossed on the floor, and which Murphy had picked up, absently, just to get the trash out of people’s way.
And I realized why there was so much anger in Murphy’s eyes.
I stared at the sketch. “Karrin,” I began again. “Stars above, you’ve got to listen to me.” I took the sketch from her hands, my fingers trembling.
“Harry,” she said, in a calm tone. “You lyingbastard,” and on the word she drove her fist into my stomach, hard, doubling me over. The motion put my head within easy reach, and her fist took me across the jaw in a right cross that sent me to the floor like a lump of wet pasta, stars dancing in my vision.
I was only dimly aware of her taking the sketch back from me. She twisted my arms painfully behind my back, and snapped her handcuffs around my wrists. “You promised me,” she said, her voice furious. “You promised. No secrets. You lied to me all along. You played me like a sucker the entire while. Goddammit, Dresden, you’re involved in this and people are dying.”
“Murph,” I mumbled. “Wait.”
She grabbed my hair, jerked my head back, and slammed me across the jaw again, near-berserk anger lending her strength. My head swam, and blackness closed over my vision for several seconds.
“No more talking. No more lies,” I heard her say, and she dragged me to my feet, shoved my face and chest against a wall, and began searching me for weapons. “No more people torn up like meat on a block. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
She took my blasting rod. My shield bracelet. The energy ring. Even my lump of chalk. Her voice went on, hard, cold, and professional, letting me know my rights.
I closed my eyes and leaned against the stone wall. Next to my head, it was the softest thing in the room. I didn’t try to fight or to explain.
What was the point?

Today I Read…Storm Front

Storm FrontToday I read Storm Front by Jim Butcher, the first book in The Dresden Files series.

Harry Dresden-Wizard. That’s what the sign says.

Most people think he’s a kook, a crazy, a few wands short of Tinkerbell–Harry knows that he is the only openly practicing wizard with a detective’s license. He also knows that the rent is overdue. He needs a case–fast.

Enter ‘Monica’, a woman who wants Harry to find her missing husband–and doesn’t want to tell him her husband’s name, where they live, or anything that could help him actually find the missing man. Well, beggars can’t be choosers when the mail contains nothing but overdue bills.

Then Harry gets a call from his occasional ally Karrin Murphy, the head of the Special Investigations Unit of the Chicago Police Department–Special Investigations being what the police call anything they refuse to call magic. Someone has been ripping out people’s hearts and leaving behind some very messy corpses, and Harry is the chief suspect. Not to mention the doom hanging over his head, and the trigger-happy Warden Morgan watching his every move and hoping that he’ll step just the tiniest bit out of line.

Add in angry mobsters, vampires, and a new magical street drug that drives users insane, and you get a wizard who’s really about to earn his  fifty dollars an hour. Plus expenses.

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I started this series because Jim Butcher was a guest at Ad Astra this year, and I wanted to attend before work got in the way (yes, I still have a backlog of reviews that dates back that far, but the list is slowly shrinking. I read faster than I write). I’ve read the first book in the series before, but it’s been some time and I’ve never read the rest of the series, so I decided to restart it from the beginning.

Harry Dresden is torn between his attempt at a self-image as a classic noir detective and as a powerful wizard, but unfortunately he can’t forget his reality of being broke and in trouble most of the time–he’s more magical working stiff than awe-inspiring all-powerful mage or hard-boiled tough-talking hard-living private dick. The answers to all of his problems don’t come easily enough to him for him to really fulfill the image he wishes he had. Though you do have to admire his ability to take a punch, considering how often it happens, and he doesn’t stop his investigation for anything or anyone, even when it would be in his own best interest to just walk away. Harry Dresden is in many ways the living embodiment of Murphy’s law–anything that possibly can go wrong for him will, and it only gets worse in the later books. He considers himself gallant and a bit of a throwback to chivalry, though he’s fairly good about acknowledging that Karrin Murphy could kick his ass and fire him as a police consultant.

I wouldn’t call this book brilliant, but it is solidly entertaining. Butcher has said in an interview that he wrote Storm Front in a writing class, and “I fought my writing teacher tooth and nail for the longest time, flatly rejecting a lot of very good advice she was giving me. When I finally got tired of arguing with her and decided to write a novel as if I was some kind of formulaic, genre writing drone, just to prove to her how awful it would be, I wrote the first book of the Dresden Files.” I certainly wouldn’t call Storm Front awful–I quite enjoyed it, and the others from the series that I’ve read so far. And considering it was Butcher’s first professional sale, and that so far he’s published 14 novels and a book of short stories based on Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, as well as one season of a television show, I guess a lot of people don’t think it’s awful.

Chicago makes an interesting scene–how would a modern wizard work in the real world? As Harry worries so often, he would have rent to pay. Other wizards work behind the scenes, instead of advertising in the Yellow Pages, and most people think that Harry is crazy or a con man, but there are enough people who believe or are at least curious enough that he can make a living. Then there are those who don’t care if he’s magical or crazy or a con or anything else so long as he gets results, and he can do that. Harry educates those who want to learn, without going into too much detail (which becomes a problem as the series goes on, when Murphy and others are put into danger through ignorance of how the magical world, the Nevernever, works), but he also doesn’t really feel the need to flaunt what he is in front of people who are not prepared to believe. As long as their cheques don’t bounce, he doesn’t care what people think of him (plus, if Warden Morgan catches him revealing too many secrets to outsiders, he might decide that that’s enough to cut Harry down to size–about a head shorter should do it).

This series should appeal to fans of modern fantasy and noir mystery who don’t take the conventions of the genres too seriously. Harry is a man who would like to fit into the formula a little more tightly than he does, but his life just keeps getting in the way. It’s entertaining to watch, but man am I ever glad I’m not Harry Dresden. I don’t think I could take getting beat up so often.

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I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn’t sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he whistled. A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door, then fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed.

Then he knocked.

I winced. My mail comes through the mail slot unless it’s registered. I get a really limited selection of registered mail, and it’s never good news. I got up out of my office chair and opened the door.

The new mailman, who looked like a basketball with arms and legs and a sunburned, balding head, was chuckling at the sign on the door glass. He glanced at me and hooked a thumb toward the sign. “You’re kidding, right?”

I read the sign (people change it occasionally), and shook my head. “No, I’m serious. Can I have my mail, please.”

“So, uh. Like parties, shows, stuff like that?” He looked past me, as though he expected to see a white tiger, or possibly some skimpily clad assistants prancing around my one-room office.

I sighed, not in the mood to get mocked again, and reached for the mail he held in his hand. “No, not like that. I don’t do parties.”

He held on to it, his head tilted curiously. “So what? Some kinda fortune-teller? Cards and crystal balls and things?”

“No,” I told him. “I’m not a psychic.” I tugged at the mail.

He held on to it. “What are you, then?”

“What’s the sign on the door say?”

“It says ‘Harry Dresden. Wizard.’ ”

“That’s me,” I confirmed.

“An actual wizard?” he asked, grinning, as though I should let him in on the joke. “Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to anger?”

“Not so subtle.” I jerked the mail out of his hand and looked pointedly at his clipboard. “Can I sign for my mail please.”

The new mailman’s grin vanished, replaced with a scowl. He passed over the clipboard to let me sign for the mail (another late notice from my landlord), and said, “You’re a nut. That’s what you are.” He took his clipboard back, and said, “You have a nice day, sir.”

I watched him go.

“Typical,” I muttered, and shut the door.

My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under “Wizards.” Believe it or not, I’m the only one there. My ad looks like this:

HARRY DRESDEN-WIZARD

Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.

Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.

No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment

You’d be surprised how many people call just to ask me if I’m serious. But then, if you’d seen the things I’d seen, if you knew half of what I knew, you’d wonder how anyone could not think I was serious.

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Blood smells a certain way, a kind of sticky, almost metallic odor, and the air was full of it when the elevator doors opened. My stomach quailed a little bit, but I swallowed manfully and followed Murphy out of the elevator and down the hall past a couple of uniform cops, who recognized me and waved me past without asking to see the little laminated card the city had given me. Granted, even in a big-city department like Chicago P.D., they didn’t exactly call in a horde of consultants (I went down in the paperwork as a psychic consultant, I think), but still. Unprofessional of the boys in blue.

Murphy preceded me into the room. The smell of blood grew thicker, but there wasn’t anything gruesome behind door number one. The outer room of the suite looked like some kind of a sitting room done in rich tones of red and gold, like a set from an old movie in the thirties-expensive-looking, but somehow faux, nonetheless. Dark, rich leather covered the chairs, and my feet sank into the thick, rust-colored shag of the carpet. The velvet velour curtains had been drawn, and though the lights were all on, the place still seemed a little too dark, a little too sensual in its textures and colors. It wasn’t the kind of room where you sit and read a book. Voices came from a doorway to my right.

“Wait here a minute,” Murphy told me. Then she went through the door to the right of the entryway and into what I supposed was the bedroom of the suite.

I wandered around the sitting room with my eyes mostly closed, noting things. Leather couch. Two leather chairs. Stereo and television in a black glossy entertainment center. Champagne bottle warming in a stand holding a brimming tub of what had been ice the night before, with two empty glasses set beside it. There was a red rose petal on the floor, clashing with the carpeting (but then, in that room, what didn’t?).

A bit to one side, under the skirt of one of the leather recliners, was a little piece of satiny cloth. I bent at the waist and lifted the skirt with one hand, careful not to touch anything. A pair of black-satin panties, a tiny triangle with lace coming off the points, lay there, one strap snapped as though the thong had simply been torn off. Kinky.

The stereo system was state of the art, though not an expensive brand. I took a pencil from my pocket and pushed the PLAY button with the eraser. Gentle, sensual music filled the room, a low bass, a driving drumbeat, wordless vocals, the heavy breathing of a woman as background.

The music continued for a few seconds more, and then it began to skip over a section about two seconds long, repeating it over and over again.

I grimaced. Like I said, I have this effect on machinery. It has something to do with being a wizard, with working with magical forces. The more delicate and modern the machine is, the more likely it is that something will go wrong if I get close enough to it. I can kill a copier at fifty paces.

“The love suite,” came a man’s voice, drawing the word love out into luuuuuuuv. “What do you think, Mister Man?”

“Hello, Detective Carmichael,” I said, without turning around. Carmichael’s rather light, nasal voice had a distinctive quality. He was Murphy’s partner and the resident skeptic, convinced that I was nothing more than a charlatan, scamming the city out of its hard-earned money. “Were you saving the panties to take home yourself, or did you just overlook them?” I turned and looked at him. He was short and overweight and balding, with beady, bloodshot eyes and a weak chin. His jacket was rumpled, and there were food stains on his tie, all of which served to conceal a razor intellect. He was a sharp cop, and absolutely ruthless at tracking down killers.

He walked over to the chair and looked down. “Not bad, Sherlock,” he said. “But that’s just foreplay. Wait’ll you see the main attraction. I’ll have a bucket waiting for you.” He turned and killed the malfunctioning CD player with a jab from the eraser end of his own pencil.

I widened my eyes at him, to let him know how terrified I was, then walked past him and into the bedroom. And regretted it. I looked, noted details mechanically, and quietly shut the door on the part of my head that had started screaming the second I entered the room.

They must have died sometime the night before, as rigor mortis had already set in. They were on the bed; she was astride him, body leaned back, back bowed like a dancer’s, the curves of her breasts making a lovely outline. He stretched beneath her, a lean and powerfully built man, arms reaching out and grasping at the satin sheets, gathering them in his fists. Had it been an erotic photograph, it would have made a striking tableau.

Except that the lovers’ rib cages on the upper left side of their torsos had expanded outward, through their skin, the ribs jabbing out like ragged, snapped knives. Arterial blood had sprayed out of their bodies, all the way to the mirror on the ceiling, along with pulped, gelatinous masses of flesh that had to be what remained of their hearts. Standing over them, I could see into the upper cavity of the bodies, I noted the now greyish lining around the motionless left lungs and the edges of the ribs, which apparently were forced outward and snapped by some force within.

It definitely cut down on the erotic potential.