The book really is totally fixable, probably because it’s structured so the plot is doing most of the heavy lifting. Just replace Misogynist Character Quirk with Non-Misogynist Character Quirk and fill in some plotholes.
Harry is a wizard who wants to work in his community rather than going the wizard tower route. He is so tired of hearing people joke when they see his sign or ad, BUT he does not flip out merely because they don’t know what the title means, he only gets snappish when the mailman actually does something. Also, maybe he’s called a PI & Wizard or something to clue people in to what his work actually involves.
He’s currently unhappy because he doesn’t have rent, not because he is a down on his luck detective who never has rent but because while he makes decent money, it comes in occasional irregular lumps, and Harry tends to spend money when he has it. Also, a character who actually admitted one of their flaws is poor planning would be a great idea.
Yeah, it’s not noir, but you really can’t have noir be compatible with being an uberman wizard and trying to pretend is where a lot of the problems are coming in from.
The reason Harry isn’t absolutely swimming in money even with his poor financing skills is that he also has standards for what sort of thing he’ll do, although those standards tend to vary based on how much he needs cash. The one thing he won’t violate is misrepresenting magic, cue story about the exorcism where he first said there’s no ghost and then did an actual exorcism at the guy’s insistence. Exorcisms can can be very flashy and interesting but only when there’s an actual ghost who starts trying to claw your face off halfway through, and since, as he’d said, there was no ghost in the first place, it was all very boring and the guy wasn’t happy.
The technology thing is still 1940s (but limited to anything Harry is directly interacting with, so he won’t kill people by walking into a hospital and he can ride in a modern car fine, he just can’t start one) and Harry explains it has something to do with magic waxing and waning but he didn’t learn the details. He does know that the technology thing comes first, and then the magical creatures come second, and that part of why he insists there’s a need for a wizard in the yellow pages is that there’s a lot more things going bump in the night now and more arriving by the year. He wonders if one of them is behind the mess that’s rattled Murphy so much.
Harry doesn’t race Murphy for the door, maybe he just thinks it’s super weird how Murphy threatened to punch him if he ever did that again and how modern feminism is clearly misguided if they have a problem with totally innocent door-opening and think it’s a proposition. This is okay because it’s not exactly like real life and it’ll be setting up for how Harry is out of sync with things.
We also learn Harry is just barely a real wizard, because killing the guy supposed to teach you and then getting put on forever murder probation means your education is somewhat curtailed. Even had Harry been learning this whole time, you usually stay an apprentice until like 40. Harry’s smart and a total magic geek, so it’s not like he’s learned nothing at all, but he’s nowhere near the expert all the mundanes think he is. He tries to cover this by learning mundane investigative stuff, which now provides payoff for one of the actual cops being snippy about him pointing out evidence, this is their actual job and nine times out of ten Harry’s observations seem totally obvious. They may even think he’s making fun of them by bringing them up at all.
This is then the context of Harry’s “definitely a witch!” Murphy points out that wow, hella archaic there, and Harry informs the reader that while his former master did end up going crazy murdery and all, he was generally right and then explains to us and Murphy the crime of passion reasoning, where this is a spell that doesn’t work at all without hate, so jilted lover, so a woman who’s mad about her lover sleeping with a prostitute. Murphy points out that a) there is a male and female victim and prostitution doesn’t rule out jealous lovers and b) gay people exist, Harry.
A wha now? says Harry, who, remember, does not have the internet or TV or much of a social circle. Murphy ignores this and just goes with what’s relevant – the fact it’s a magical killing doesn’t change the fact the usual rules apply about the killer likely knowing the victim. Harry adds his explanation about how it must have been at a distance, because close range you could just use a gun, but for the power to do a spell that way, you’d need a whole coven which is weird because how many witches could this guy have enraged? Murphy points out it could just be that not everyone has a gun and then remind Harry for the fourth time that if a person in this room right now happened to own a gun that wasn’t registered, he should go register it because there are actually all sorts of laws for keeping track of guns. She’ll include the paperwork with his money.
Harry doesn’t believe her because this is America and it’s right there in the second amendment and it’s just like that old guy at the bar saying about women want to take your guns, so he continues with his distance theory while Murphy proceeds on the assumption it’s someone who didn’t have access to physical ways of killing someone OR didn’t feel confident in their ability to succeed and then hide the evidence. That’s actually the right assumption based on what Harry just said about who the killer probably was, and is only wrong because Harry didn’t know there were ways of supercharging a spell to make it work without insane degrees of hate.
Murphy finishes by demanding he work out the spell and tell her how easy it is to do because when she idly asked Harry’s answer is so weird and suspicious and jumpy she assumes it’s something really important. Harry has enough social skills to realize this and kick himself, but takes the wrong lesson from it and that’s why he spends much of the book trying to tell Murphy next to nothing.
Harry decides he’ll just tell Morgan about it the next time the asshole shows up, to find out who’s the target, then tell Murphy he “solved” it and that the killer was this witch who was bisected by, uh, spell backlash. Delayed spell backlash from her original spell, because magic does funny things with time! Yes.
(It’s still against the rules to tell mundanes about wizard law, but not in a “so therefore we’ll kill them to keep our secret safe” sense, at least not to Harry’s knowledge.)
Oh, right, and also we’re absolutely keeping Harry’s squick about magical killing and really pushing the idea it’s a perversion on an irrational level. Like, hm – like how it’s really gross to have sex with corpses, regardless of if you’re killing them yourself or just fucking people who died naturally. Obviously the people murdering so they can have sex with corpses are evil, but it’s the sex with corpses bit that’s making everyone squirm and wish I’d chosen a different analogy, and that’s how Harry feels about using magic to kill while not having a problem with killing as a whole.
Marcone’s motivations are terrible and just here so we can tell Harry is so important even mobsters care about his doings. But! Harry actually is so important even mobsters should care about what he’s doing, so we just have to fix what Marcone’s asking.
Marcone says he’d like to help fund the police investigation, no strings attached, although it’d help him help them if Harry keeps him in the loop about what’s going on, just in case he hears something.
Harry is offended by the idea of taking Marcone’s blood money and also by the idea he’d help subvert justice by telling Marcone what’s going on. This is actually a misjudgment.
See, while yes, normally Marcone would love to be behind the guy’s death himself, he’d also like to not die or lose his guys to heartsploding while if this guy takes down five police officers before being gunned down, that’s no loss for Marcone. He’s totally sincere about wanting the police to solve this clusterfuck for him and he really does just want to help them get whatever information leads to them gunning this guy down. That’s also why he won’t try to punish Harry for refusing him – it’s annoying, but it’d get in the way of fixing the whole heartsplosion business as fast as possible. (Also, he just found out wizards can heartsplode people. Harry will assume the baseball bat guy is from Marcone, but eventually realize that no, that’s insane, why would Marcone provoke a magic user just days after finding out magic users can explode you with their mind?)
We still have the whole wizard gaze thing going on, with Harry usually avoiding people’s eyes and coming off really weird because of that (his default “over your head” look just makes women think he’s some self-hating virgin who’s going to snap one day and start killing women while ranting about the horrible thoughts they make him think), but Harry’s pissed off and tries to scare Marcone by locking eyes, since the guy seems to know enough about magic to know to avoid his gaze. Marcone just calls his bluff and ends up terrifying Harry (in part because Harry realizes Marcone’s scared and tends to kill things that scare him, as discussed in the comments), and after such a spectacular backfire Harry will go through the rest of the book without trying that again on anyone.
Harry is not an idiot so he thinks it’s weird this woman hasn’t just told the police her husband’s missing, and assumes that she’s worried the guy might have gotten up to something illegal (like he’s passed out in a pile of cocaine right now, say). Also super weird she can tell him exactly where to look but hasn’t checked herself, which suggests she knows the guy is cheating on her but doesn’t want to admit it. Not the sort of thing he likes to deal with. Then she mentions the magic thing, and Harry starts paying attention. Then she mispronounces tarot and Harry realizes that oh shit oh shit this could be a self-taught initiate. Harry actually knows nothing about them beyond that the wizard council hates them and says they inevitably self-destruct explosively, but that’s enough to be scared.
This and the fact he really doesn’t want to walk in on a coke and hookers orgy either is why he doesn’t want to go near the house himself and figures he’ll outsource it to fairies. At the end, instead of being all WOW HOW UNFORESEEN he realizes that jesus he could’ve solved this at the start if he’d just walked up to look at the building in person.
We can keep the idiot scorpion ball similarly – Harry admits that he can totally check to find out if it’s magic or not by using his wizard vision, but that it’s a scorpion and nothing about scorpion magic is nice, so if there’s any spell on it he’ll spend the rest of his life wishing he hadn’t checked. He does a test to see if it has any overt magic that could be dangerous, then decides that he doesn’t want to find out if the guy’s actually a magician or not enough to get another permanent trauma vision. He does a quick tracking spell with the scorpion, feels the direction is the same as where she indicated the house would be, and shoves it into a drawer.
(The scorpion becoming dangerous later will be explicitly because the extra power of the storm lets you shove whole spells into things at a distance – no normal wizard would be able to activate something almost inert like that, so Harry couldn’t have expected it.)
WIZARD PUB is not actually wizard pub, because wizards are rare (or, Harry thinks they are, although we’ll find out that’s changing). There’s a distinction between full wizards, like Harry, who can do on the fly spells and can’t live in normal society due to the technology thing, and minor magic users, who can’t do anything fast and have to have ample supplies for what they can do. Both can make potions, but, say, their love potion just makes you regard the other person slightly better. (If Harry uses that as an example, we’ll have setup for why he wouldn’t think much of the love potion he makes.) That’s still head and shoulders more impressive than anything muggles have access to, so they usually do pretty alright for themselves.
The pub is pricey, which they like because it means regular people don’t come there.
Harry still doesn’t know what’s up with three eye ™ but this time thinks that a) he’s pretty sure you can’t give wizard vision with drugs, so maybe it’s some sort of mass hysteria thing from people hearing about wizard vision and b) if there was a problem, the council would deal with it.
This sets up Harry’s complacency with the council. Morgan’s doing a great job of stalking him, so he assumes they’re generally on the ball being all wizard police everywhere. Actually they’re usually only alerted by the aftermath of some disaster, which is why they only show up after Harry’s murdered his evil master, and Harry’s case is special because they know about him but weren’t able to resort to their usual binary of leave totally alone/kill immediately. This is also why they can have a guy stalking him 24/7, their executioners are only called in for jobs occasionally.
Rodriguez shows up, and instead of being a negging bastard Harry just has trouble knowing how to deal with a woman being forward, although at the same time he appreciates it because ooh boobs! Also, he doesn’t really know how to deal with women, so it’s nice when they tell you how to invite them on a date and where you’ll invite them to and what time you’re inviting them. This establishes Harry’s not actually a slut-shamey asshole, he just comes off as one because he’s really sheltered and getting most of his post-apprentice socialization from grouchy drunk old men.
Harry then references his first relationship by saying that one of the many things he likes about Rodriguez is she’s not a fellow wizard and so not going to get possessed by evil, rather than woe is me ever since I murdered my girlfriend I have had such bad luck getting tail.
Fairy investigation time! Actually, this and Ch5 should probably be switched – instead of Harry immediately heads to the pub like he’s an addict who needs his fix, he goes out to do what he was hired for, then comes back and eats supper at the pub. But it’s needed for the sequence, so maybe have everything happen later in the day so it’s more reasonable he doesn’t go do anything until the next day.
Harry skips the part where he cases the joint, because he doesn’t want to be involved in someone else’s marriage falling apart and doesn’t want to be anywhere near nitroglycerin in human form, so he’s going to do his best to avoid the place until he has no other choice. This neatly avoids the fact if he did investigate he’d find nothing particularly useful and a film canister that’d be redundant for any actual detective.
Instead, we go right to the fairy summons. Harry explains that the name-summons can be used to just sort of indicate there’s something cool over here, check it out, because fairies actually have a sort of magical intuition and you can add in your own suggestions provided they’re actually true (no “hey check out this definitely not a bear trap it’s awesome”). With major magic (like what a wizard can throw around) you can just rewrite the fairy’s brain with compulsions to do whatever you want, but obviously that’d be wrong. This is how minor magic users (maybe even mundanes) can summon fairies with proper fairy bait.
I really like the whole circle/boundaries/divisions thing, but it really seems irrelevant to how magic works in this, so let’s ditch it completely. The spell is just about tricking the fairy into consuming your blood – maybe any creature’s, maybe the dewdrop fairies aren’t allowed to consume any flesh or blood and doing so binds them until they fulfill a task to atone. You can boost the summoning’s power by using fairy rings. (For mundanes name+fairy ring may be necessary to have any success, while name or fairy name is enough for good odds if you’re a minor magic user and both all but guarantees it.)
Harry reuses the same carved cup and bowl in his fairy bait as a sort of signature.
See, a fairy won’t do you a favor or will fuck with you somehow for asking, and you can’t make voluntary contracts with them since that’s demeaning to fairykind, somehow. (Harry honestly doesn’t even know if they’re sincere about that one or if it’s fairy law enforced by the stronger fae or what.) But doing favors in return for being freed from some sort of trap is the exception, even if you’re the one who trapped them.
Harry tries to provide a fair deal for them overall and be as up-front about it being a trap as he can with the idea that if they don’t want to do something for him, they’ll see the plates and avoid it, while if they’d rather have the bread-honey-milk, they pretend they forgot what the plates look like for honor’s sake. At least, he hopes that’s what’s going on and they aren’t actually forgetting every time.
This is also why he’ll end up sending them pizza, he likes to give a clear additional payment for them helping him out.
Eventually Harry’s fairy returns with the news about sex, and he’s just oh, so not the nitroglycerin just the super uncomfortable option I don’t want to deal with. He then thinks about how wow, he doesn’t even have any evidence and he’s not sure how to get evidence because it’s unlikely he could get a camera to work and he’s never even tried using one before and also it’d mean peering in windows watching people have sex, and decides that he should go home and think about what to do next instead.
Then Naked Steel shows up to yell at him and this time Harry is horribly offended at the idea he mindraped his fairy friend who he’d going to buy so much pizza rather than arguing that the anti-mindrape laws don’t apply to fairies. Don’t you have anything better to do than assume the worst of me when there’s a crazy hate-murderer around? he demands. Do you guys not even know about that yet or something?
Morgan explains that yes, that is totally what he’s doing right now. Oh shit! Harry brings up legal concepts he’s now familiar with from working with the police like innocent until proven guilty and holy fuck you can’t just kill me because you’ve just decided I did it on the basis you don’t like me! and Morgan explains that wizard law doesn’t have any of that stupid modern criminal-coddling muggle nonsense about “rights” and “evidence” and “no obstructive fishing weirs”. Halfway through the rant about kids today Harry realizes Morgan’s talking about the Magna Carta and that he is totally fucked. (It’s not even that Morgan is that old, it’s that wizarding culture as a whole is so disconnected and isolated, and so sure they’re better than anyone else, that virtually none of them pay attention to this stuff in the first place, so stuff takes forever to even enter general wizard culture and then stays around even longer. Someone really liked their weir and that’s like all the remember now.)
A few seconds after realizing holy shit they might kill me just because something bad happened in the same city as me, Harry realizes that holy shit, that means I’m the only wizard actually trying to find this guy.
This actually works really well for explaining why he doesn’t bother with the case before now – it’s not that Harry refuses to work unless he might die, it’s that he thought it was under control and it is not. It is so very, very much not.
Harry checks the time and tells us about the awesome precision watch he has, leading in to how he’s about to tell us about all sorts of cool stuff he has in his home because yes, there’s forms of technology that predate 1940 too and lots of them are great. Also, Harry’s pet cat trips him in the actual winding pet cat way and not by bowling him over. Harry explains about how his actually not socially acceptable hobby is sewing, because it’s cheaper than buying all the tapestries he needs due to heating not working right and it gives him something to do with all that spare time he has not being able to watch TV or use a computer.
He’s also got those candle lamps that use water to focus light better, but magiced to be brighter and ever-burning (because come on, why so little magic in this!)
Harry then heads down to talk to Bob the Rapist Skull, because he wants some potions on hand before he goes investigating.
This is where we cement that Harry’s actually pretty inexperienced as a wizard, impressive as his skills look to mundanes, and so he supplements his skill with Bob, who he stole/inherited from his dead master. The skull generally wants awful things, but it’s also easily bored, so Harry just waits him out until he’s willing to accept romance novels or porn magazines, which Harry tends to buy in bulk so he has them on hand.
(Harry comes off as such a creep to everyone else. “Oh god, it’s that guy who comes in every six months who keeps his eyes on the floor the whole time and grabs a copy of every single magazine without actually looking directly at any of them. Then he stares at the counter whole time I ring them up. Then he pays in hundred dollar bills. One time someone asked if he wanted any lube with that and he about jumped out of his skin.”)
Harry writes down the directions, then burns each new potion and spell into his brain by flipping on wizard sight afterward, always in a separate room because he doesn’t know what Bob looks like and hopes to never find out. Bob sometimes manages to fuck up his paper before he can do this.
So why the love potion? Because Harry’s really rattled. He doesn’t know where to start investigating this, and so his only hope is Bianca, but Bianca hates wizards and is a terrifying nigh-indestructible giant bat monster. Bob says he knows just the thing for that – an escape potion that can even take you though walls.
Harry actually figures he’s getting off pretty lightly with the love potion, since he doesn’t realize that Bob (somehow, maybe Harry talks to his cat on the way in) knows about his date with Rodriquez and is suggesting it for just that reason. He also has no idea what the potion will actually do, since he’s only heard of the regular version. The ingredients are something less completely misogynistic. Maybe something like, say, moths, because pheromones and flying into candles.
He then clearly labels both potions and puts the evil one in the back of a cabinet. It ends up back on the table because, as we see with the flying escape potion, Bob has telekinesis and can do that kind of thing.
Also, like with the circles I don’t think magic absorbing emotions goes anywhere interesting, so let’s cut that and just go with certain emotions resonating better with particular spells. Hate makes your blow-someone-up spell work better, but it doesn’t eat your hate in the process.
That said, in a more character-based and thorough rewrite the idea Harry’s weird bravery and stuff is the result of him handling his emotions by just cutting them out for spells would be really great. The story almost works with that given his emotional range is so shallow and childish.
Harry brings his shield charm (which he always wears), his escape potion, and his pentacle. The guy at the gate frisks him and takes the mystery liquid flask, because he’s not an idiot and holy water is pretty obvious. Harry begins to quietly freak out because his plan was to turn on the shield charm then drink the potion to escape the building, and now part two of his plan is gone and all she has to do is hem him in until he runs out of energy, like a cat batting about a hamster in a ball if the ball was powered by willpower.
We still get the whole chivalry thing but putting the focus on how this, like most wizard things, is really archaic, and also Harry saying that it’s putting him sort of at ease because he knows this script.
He then mentions the heartsplosions. She goes for him, tearing through the shield charm like it’s not even there (fuck that’s why the whole wizard council is terrified of these things) only to get seared by the pentacle. Harry focuses on that and manages to drive her back. She says he’s the murderer. He says he’s not and lowers the pentacle in good faith, then DOES NOT FOLLOW IT WITH SOME BULLSHIT ABOUT HOW YOU HAVE TO MAKE SHARKS RESPECT YOU BY BEING FEARLESS. He says he did not do it, that he saw it and it was a perversion of magic, and he came here to talk to her because he honestly wants to stop this guy. She says he’s the only one around who could’ve done it, and he admits that yes, so he’s heard, but this could be someone new to the area…
…and gears start turning.
She tells him what little she knows and at one point manages to lock eyes with him for a second and he absolutely flinches, and goes away not sure if she was just trying to scare him or if it’s really possible to soulgaze a vampire (he isn’t totally sure what vampires are but he’s guessing not human and never human). She adds that she’s supposed to investigate this herself because it’s obviously a wizard doing it and under wizard law, vampires can only kill wizards who directly threaten them, not in defence of others. Harry promises to stop the killer.
They part amicably. I understand later she wants him dead and goes to some lengths, so – instead of the whole Randall was the wrong kind of whore so I didn’t want her, Randall is either still on her payroll or someone she’s on good terms with, and she blames Harry for not stopping the guy. Given Randall’s death was preventable, this is understandable if not really fair.
Harry goes away mulling about someone new. After all, if his client’s husband could find magic books and play with tarot cards, some woman might be doing the same, and she might actually have managed to access magic and using it for something rather than having sex all day at a house.