(2018) Jim Butcher, Orbit, £18.99, pbk, 439pp, ISBN 978-0-356-51168-9
Brief Cases is the second of Jim Butcher’s collection of short stories in the Dresden Files series and it is essential reading for any fan of the novels.
However, presumably to avoid slowing the pace, setting information has generally been avoided. This means Brief Cases would probably not be an ideal place to start for someone new to Butcher’s series. You don’t need any specific plot information to appreciate these stories, but as they are set in different parts of Harry Dresden life they could be considered spoilers for the main novel series. Most of the novels can be read as standalone novels I would generally recommend reading them in series order to get the best appreciation of the overall plot.
So, the extreme connoisseur’s approach might be to read the short stories interspersed with the novels, so they are in strict chronological order. Butcher states where in the chronology each story takes place at the start of each. This is perhaps too complex for most people on a first read through but might be interesting if returning to reread the entire series.
Here's the set-up for the stories. Harry Dresden is the only wizard in the phone book for Chicago. He offers to help those who need it for a very reasonable fee. Although in reality he tends to help first and ask for money afterwards, as he is not terribly business minded. This takes him on many adventures trying to do the right thing and rescue those who need it and perhaps be rescued in return.
The books are set in an urban fantasy background of modern day America, but with the addition of the supernatural. The style is almost conversational with strong protagonist lead narration.
The main novels and the earlier short story collection, Side Jobs, are very focused on Harry as the protagonist, so the lovely thing about these short stories is that we get to see the world from the perspective of different characters. Point of view characters include Molly - Harry’s adopted ward, Gentleman Jonnie Marconi - a mob boss, Luccio - one of the other Wardens and even Mouse - Harry’s dog, who is more than he seems, [a story that is covered in more detail during the novels]. This approach reinforces the idea that the characters in the novels are three-dimensional instead of just a supporting cast for the protagonist Harry.
It is perhaps worth a side not about cover designs. The covers for the novel series changed partway through to feature a person and a more graphic style, perhaps intended to influence the readers mental picture of Harry Dresden. However, some of us will always have the image of the character from the 2007 TV series, which is not inconsistent with the cover art.
Many of the stories have been published previously in anthologies with stories from other authors, but Brief Cases brings them all together with new original material. If read after the novels, this provides a beautiful retrospective and deepening of the readers understanding of the world beyond the original narrative which fans should not miss.
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