by Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher’s ongoing series The Dresden Files is eighteen years old this year, and in that time, readers have been on a long journey with the lovable buffoon named Harry Dresden, ‘the only professional wizard in the phone book,’ and protector of Chicago, Illinois against all things peculiar and otherworldly. With fifteen novels, multiple graphic novels, and a short story collection, the world of The Dresden Files is vast. It has been cited as the gold standard of modern urban fantasy, so it comes as no surprise that Butcher’s latest outing in the series is highly anticipated. With Brief Cases, Butcher brings together his second collection of short stories, following 2010’s Side Jobs.
As with Side Jobs, Brief Cases collects stories set in the Dresden Files universe which, with one exception, have been published over many years in collections with other authors. Fans who have been patient enough to wait and purchase this second collection will not be disappointed, as Butcher delivers his usual mix of sarcasm, geekiness, and darkness followers of Dresden and his adventures have come to expect from the wizard.
Butcher has introductions before every story, detailing his inspiration and where they each fit chronologically in the overall series. The last three stories in the collection, “Jury Duty,“Day One,” and “Zoo Day” are each set after the events of the last novel published, 2014’s Skin Game, so those three especially act as an appetizer to the much anticipated sixteenth installment in the main series. “Zoo Day,” the one previously unpublished story, showcases the growth of Dresden who, having been a twenty-five-year-old bachelor at the start of the series, is now a father, spending his first day alone with his young daughter at the zoo. Three stories spread throughout the collection make up the ‘Bigfoot trilogy’ with Dresden hired to look after a half human, half Bigfoot young man throughout his teenage years and into college. The three stories also force Dresden into the role of a parental figure in preparation for the eventual birth of his daughter.
Dresden is not the only character on display here. Some stories, such as “Even Hand,” are Dresden-less, and come from the point of view of other characters such as 'Gentleman’ John Marcone, the major organized crime boss of Chicago and Harry Dresden’s sometimes rival and sometimes ally who comes to the rescue of Justine, a friend of Dresden. The story shows multiple sides of Marcone, who is one of the earliest characters introduced in the first book of the series, 2000’s Storm Front. He sets aside his business activities to help save a child. Some might say that short stories in large series are unnecessary; however, in the end, “Even Hand” also shows Marcone as an antagonist for Dresden, and helps to further the larger plot:
I would test myself against Dresden in earnest one day – or he against me. Until then, I had to gather as many resources to myself as possible. And when the day of reckoning came, I had to make sure it happened in a place where, despite his powers, he would no longer have the upper hand.
"Bombshell"s and "Cold Case" act as a back-to-back combination narrated by Molly Carpenter, Dresden’s one-time apprentice, now out on her own and proving her worth without him. "Day One" focuses on fan favorite Waldo Butters, a medical examiner who assists Dresden in an early novel as a one-off appearance, only to be brought back and made a series regular later on. “Day One” explores his first exploit as a Knight of the Cross, wielders of holy swords whose mission is to protect the innocent.
These stories show new sides of these characters, and further the lore of The Dresden Files. With this series, Butcher has created an array of characters of all species and sizes, and is known to not waste a character – if someone is introduced, they likely have an important role to play in the overall story. Every story in both collections adds to the world Butcher created, but being able to get inside the minds of Dresden’s friends and enemies is a treat for any fan.
To further the world-building, some stories have references to events of the main series, with some even inserting characters never seen into the prior narrative of the main series, like in “Bigfoot on Campus”:
“I recognize you,” I said pleasantly to Barrowill. “You were at the Raith Deeps when Skavis and Malvora tried to pull off their coup. Front row, all the way on one end in the Raith cheering section.”
“You have an excellent memory,” Barrowill said.
Brief Cases has a great balance of humor, imagination, and furthering the overall story. There are numerous references and inside jokes that Dresden Files enthusiasts will be exited to read. Butcher even finally addresses the use of the wizard Dresden’s first name, which is a fun non-subtle nod to another series about a wizard name Harry:
“I’m Harry,” I said, and held out my hand.
He eyed my hand and then me, huffing out half of a laugh. “Wizard Harry. You’re kidding.”
“Nope,” I said. I looked at him and lifted a speculative eyebrow.
Some readers will likely re-read the entire series leading up to Peace Talks, the next novel in the series. While it might be tempting to sprinkle in these stories chronically, reading them back to back is a unique reading experience when comparing the various characters, specifically Dresden, to themselves in different time periods. Either way it is read, Brief Cases is a must-read for any Dresden Files fan.
Michael Feeney is a book reviewer and pop culture junkie from the Philadelphia area. He is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction.