Last time, Harry is terrible.
Today, Harry continues to make it all about him.
my thoughts and emotions a far more furious thunderstorm than the one now rolling away from the city, out over the vastness of the lake
I had lost Murphy’s trust. It didn’t matter that I had done what I had to protect both her and myself.
And I wasn’t sure that, even if I found the person or persons responsible, even if I worked out how to bring them down, even if I did Murphy’s job for her, that what had happened between us could ever be smoothed over
Yes, Harry, even if [you] did Murphy’s job for her she’s probably not going to be happy, because she doesn’t want you to do her job for her in the first place so that’s just going to piss her off even further.
Thank god it’s time to consult the event list from better books and check another box:
a man with a hat pulled low over his face began to walk past me, stopped halfway, then turned and drove his fist into my belly. I had time to think, Not again , and then he struck me a second, and third time. Each blow drove into my guts, thrust me back against the unyielding wall, made me sick. My breath flew out of my mouth in a little, strangling gasp
It’s long past the point this could fix everything, but it makes it a little more bearable.
and even if I’d had a spell already in mind, I wouldn’t have had the breath to speak it.
An attempt to go with the idea of a squishy wizard. Like all halfhearted mary sue “flaws”, this comes up inconsistently, though I will grant that unlike the last time, the fallout goes beyond just getting smacked. Sadly, it’ll raise a new issue.
While Harry is stunned, the guy cuts off some of his hair.
My hair. The man had cut off my hair. It could be used in almost any kind of magic, any kind of deadly spell, and there wouldn’t be a damned thing I could do to stop it.
So why the fuck didn’t you shave your head?
This is why the setting feels like a flimsy bit of tissue paper – because it is. The author has precisely enough energy to invent ways magic works and none left over to think about how people would use it. The idea of wizards with long flowing hair and beards should be one of the stereotypes Harry mocks, because wizards know better than to leave bits of their person around. But, like the fact his supposed lack of funds and inability to use technology don’t get in the way of his swinging bachelor pad and all-meat diet, Harry decided he’d rather die than shave his head.
You might be thinking that, well, blood’s pretty easy to get by assaulting someone so it’s not like shaving your head would stop them, but for no reason at all, Harry will tell us that blood only works while it’s wet and fresh, unlike hair which is never alive at all.
Anyway, Harry responds reasonably, and for once I’m not being sarcastic. He tackles the guy, kicks out his knee, and tries to wrestle the hair back. In the process, he finds out this is one of Marcone’s men presumably at his order. I’m sure the comment section will turn this gay, because you’re wonderful people and also because we certainly can’t let Harry have any relationships with women, but for now, I just have to reiterate I just don’t see it. Their relationship just seems too father/son, and not in the incesty way. I can just picture how Marcone would have that restrained disappointed father look on his face when ordering the hit. If only Harry had mentioned you can also do love potion shenanigans by stealing hair I’d have something to go on here.
Sadly, Harry isn’t as fast at assaulting people, so onlookers eventually decide to intervene to protect the guy Harry appears to be assaulting for no reason, right before he manages to pry his hair out of the guy’s fist.
“Easy, easy man,” one of the guys was saying as they dragged me off. “Take it easy.”
There wasn’t any use struggling against the pair of them. Instead, I dragged in a breath and managed to gasp, “Wallet. He’s got my wallet.”
Considering the way I was dressed, compared to Gimpy’s suit and coat, that was one lie that was never going to get off the ground. Or at least, it wouldn’t have, if Gimpy hadn’t turned and started hurrying away. The two men let me go, confused.
Good job, Harry! I mean, yes, your ability to lie on your feet like this contradicts your claim you’re shit at lying, but so does everything else in the book so I won’t fault you for it again. Maybe you only said that in the first place because as a liar you like to lie about being a bad liar. But what’s important is Harry was actually reasonably competent while not being overpowered here, and I really, really appreciate it. Plus, the suspense is distracting me from how incredibly much I hate the guy. This could go either way! And we don’t know Harry has to succeed because the hair won’t instantly kill him.
Right now, for example, the guy has managed to limp to a car before Harry caught back up.
Harry starts being scared, realizes he doesn’t have that much emotional range, and goes for fury instead. He’ll hunt down Marcone and the guy’s wizard that’s apparently heartsploding everybody.
No, I thought. Not Marcone. That didn’t make any sense, unless it had been Marcone’s gang dealing the ThreeEye from the very beginning. If Marcone had a wizard in residence, why would he have tried to bribe me away? Why not just swipe a lock of hair from me when he’d sent the thug with the bat, and then kill me when I didn’t pay attention?
That’s right, Harry’s also managed to turn his brain on before we got two-thirds through the book. Cutting it close.
But again, what an enjoyable chapter this is shaping up to be! Harry is beaten, in imminent danger, actually responding to that danger in a sane way, and now he’s reasoning out the culprit.
(Also, here’s an interesting idea – Marcone does sort of have a wizard on tap, but another newbie who’s just going off some old book. When the heartsplosions start, they’re both like “Whoa, that’s an option?!” and immediately get on trying to mimic the effect, having no idea there’s any wizard secret police to get mad about it. This also explains why Marcone wanted Harry off the case, because although he wasn’t behind the first set of murders, he was planning on being behind more. Harry is thrown off by the assumption magic knowledge is an either/or, but when he finds and takes down the original culprit partway through and sees that they’re an amateur who happened to luck into the right book and were only heartsploding because they didn’t know there were other options, he realizes there’s a second killer, and it’s Marcone, who got the idea from the original heartsploder. Oh god, thinks Harry. The reason he believed in magic, the reason he spoke so highly of my ability – of course, he had his own wizard to tell him that! He as much told me when he said he’s selective about the people he listens to! It was all so beautifully foreshadowed in a multi-layered mystery plot that wasn’t pulled out of the author’s ass halfway through!)
At any rate, because Harry hates me:
Or could his thug be playing two sides of the street?
I decided that ultimately it didn’t matter.
Harry then explains that the other wizard isn’t very skilled and is obviously very new at magic. He continues to not think anything of the fact his other job was to investigate a woman’s missing husband who just recently got into magic.
The answer came to me in a flash, and it seemed simple. If the hair could be used as a link to the rest of me, I should be able to reverse it-to create a link from me back to the hair. Hell, maybe I could just set it on fire, burn it all up from my apartment. The formula for a spell like that would be screwy as hell, though. I needed Bob. Bob could help me work out a spell, figure out a formula like that in minutes instead of hours or days.
I grimaced. Bob was gone, and would be for almost another twenty-four hours. There was no way I could work out that formula in less than ten or twelve hours by myself, and I didn’t think my brain was coherent enough to come up with solid calculations at the moment, anyway.
This puts the final nail in the coffin of Harry being a “magic geek”. Without Bob the Rapist Skull, he apparently has to work from scratch, because it never occurred to him to take notes.
Incidentally, Harry has not checked a weather report and there was just a storm, so I don’t know why he’s assuming waiting a half day to destroy it or a full day to have Bob hand him the answer is unacceptable. If anything, waiting for the hair to be passed to his enemy and then tracking it would be the smarter move, because he just finished explaining he can absolutely take the guy in a straight-up fight.
Harry then says that also, he could just call Murphy to find out where Marcone is (despite the fact that if the guy is working for Marcone’s enemy, he’d probably want to finish the job right now rather than go back to hang out with Marcone. Because this book is where logic goes to die, Harry’s totally right and the guy’s standing next to Marcone.) Harry informs us, however, that since he had a fight with his not-girlfriend, she’ll “never” tell him despite that obviously being bullshit. In fact, it’s such bullshit even the book immediately goes on to add And even if she did, she’d because it knows this is bullshit.
Incidentally, what would she do?
demand to know the whole story, and after I’d told it to her, she’d try to take me into protective custody or something ridiculous like that.
Because women are good for nothing but irrationally mother-henning tough alpha men. Even though she believes in magic and would completely believe Harry about the fact he’d be heartsplosioned if he wasn’t able to retrieve the hair, she’d put him in protective custody instead, because women!
Anyway, since OBVIOUSLY the cop is useless due to her cute nose, he has no choice but to figure out something himself, and since he’s lazy and ignorant, it can’t be a spell he doesn’t already know.
It’s at this point he realizes he’s got bits of blood under his nails.
I used a bit of chalk I keep in my duster pocket to sketch out a circle on the concrete, surrounding me. Then I scraped the blood out from under my nails and put it onto the concrete between my feet. It glistened in the fine, misty fall of rain.
The next part took me a moment to figure out, but I settled for using the tracking spell I already knew rather than trying to modify it to something a little more dignified. I plucked out a couple of nose hairs and put them in the circle, too, on top of the bits of Gimpy’s skin and blood. Then I touched a finger to the chalk circle and willed energy into it, closing it off.
This gives him bloodhound tracking centered on the other guy.
So hey, coherent magic system! Harry said you need circles to do shit. Harry then used a circle to do shit. What’s unclear here is what happens if the circle is disrupted – I’d assume the spell ends, but Harry proceeds to not care about this possibility.
At this point a taxi shows up. I’m assuming I missed Murphy calling one for him. Harry hops in and says he needs to go to his two-floor “apartment” to collect his stuff (My talismans, my blasting rod, my staff, a fetish that should still be vital ah there you are gay subtext) then go yell at Marcone. Okay, I guess that’s also a bit gay, he just keeps thinking about how he’ll see Marcone and Marcone Marcone Marcone instead of focusing on the guy who he even said probably wasn’t even acting on Marcone’s orders.
A bracelet on each wrist. A ring. My blasting rod. My staff.
I thought of all the subtle and devious means by which I might tilt the situation in my favor-clever illusions, convenient faltering of electricity or water, a sudden invasion of rats or cockroaches. I could have managed any of them. Not many people who use magic are that versatile, but very few have the kind of experience and training it takes to put such spells together on the fly.
I shook my head, irritated. I didn’t have time to bother with subtlety.
This book is just fucking mocking me now. “Let me tell you about the ways I could do something interesting with magic! lol jk it’s beamspam time.”
So he blows the door up, but at himself where it’ll bounce harmlessly off his shield. This is a good note but it’s totally at odds with powerlevel. This isn’t the story of a powerful guy with the tension centering in non-brute-force areas. It’s a slugfest, so Harry suddenly being all MY SHIELD IS SO INVULNERABLE I CAN WASTE ITS ENERGY BY ATTACKING MYSELF, YOU’RE WELCOME RANDOM CITIZENS is jarring. (Harry doesn’t seem to say any words here, which also serves to remind us there’s no reason he couldn’t have been using a shield charm for protection this whole time.)
Anyway, Harry follows up being relatively responsible in his show of force by overkilling a jukebox:
The jukebox slammed back against the wall as though a cannonball had impacted it, and then melted into a puddle of liquid-plastic goo
Then he explodes all the lightbulbs, because it’s okay to rain lightbulb glass down on everyone.
Now, and I can’t overemphasize this, Harry confirmed the guy he was after was there before even entering and yet instead of going for him, explodes random shit then demands to chat with Marcone.
“Little pig, little pig, let me in,” I said, into the silence. I planted my staff on the ground and narrowed my eyes at Marcone. “I’d really like to talk to you for a minute, John.”
Marcone stared at me for a moment, then his lips twitched up at the corners. “You have a singular manner of persuasion, Mr. Dresden.”
If you showed this to people and told them to guess which was the criminal, what do you think they’d say?
Marcone’s frozen metal tiger soul gives him more compassion than Harry, so his first move is to ask psycho thug here to get out of the way and let the many, many ordinary people in the place leave.
Only after all this does Harry express the problem. For fuck’s sake, Harry, even toddlers usually manage to say their grievance during the tantrum.
“I want my hair back,” I said, as soon as the last college-age couple had hustled out the door.
“Beg pardon?” Marcone said. His head tilted to one side, and he seemed genuinely puzzled.
“You heard me,” I said. “This piece of trash of yours”-I swung my blasting rod up and pointed it at Gimpy-“just jumped me outside a gas station across town and cut off some of my hair. I want it back. I’m not going to go out like Tommy Tomm did.”
So here’s what anyone whose brain wasn’t pickled in alpha male piss would’ve done:
1) Attempt to enter.
1a) If refused, blow door off hinges. Sends message you’re not to be messed with, doesn’t confuse the message by exploding stuff even when not messed with.
2) Move toward the guy who stole your hair.
2a) Should he attempt to flee, blast something else to stop him.
2b) Should Marcone ask why you’re attacking his man, say this.
3) Retrieve hair from thug.
There. Now you no longer look like a cranky five year old with a gun. You want to aim for using sufficient force. When you’re in danger of heartsplosion, sufficient force is already enough to double as shock and awe for anyone else thinking of getting in your way. By making it clear you’re doing this solely due to an attack on yourself, you avoid the calculation I guarantee Marcone is doing right now that says you’re a loose cannon who could do this again if you have any reason to ever suspect Marcone is involved in something, without making any attempt to communicate with him first.
Because that’s a really important thing, and one you’d think your wizard forbears would’ve learned. Simply having the ability to murder people at will is not an argument for no one messing you, it’s a multi-page advertisement with foldout on why you need to be killed at the first opportunity.
Marcone nodded, those cold, tiger’s eyes on Gimpy’s, and said, almost gently, “Well?”
Luckily Marcone has taken parenting classes and so mediates between his thug’s whiny “I din do it he’s lying to get me in twouble!” and Harry’s craptastic accusations with grace. (Sample quote: “He’s lying, boss,” Gimpy Lawrence said again, but his voice was shaking. “He’s just trying to mess with your head.”
“Lawrence,” Marcone said, his tone the gentle reproof of parent to child.)
Harry, meanwhile, has yet again suddenly realized something you’d think he knew, namely, the killer knows Harry is on to him (the attempted demon murder not being a clue there, apparently) and also Marcone’s thug is also working for the killer.
Anyway, the guy decides his best bet is to just shoot Harry, but Harry has that shield up.
Spike leapt clear of the table, staying low, a small Uzi-style automatic now in his hand. Hendricks was more ruthless and direct, reacting with the mindlessly violent instincts of a savage. With one hand, the big bodyguard hauled Marcone back, putting his own bulk between the mob boss and Gimpy Lawrence.
So “acting to prevent someone from being harmed to the point of getting between them and danger” is now mindless violent instincts, ruthless, and, somehow, direct.
Hendricks then shoots the guy.
I stood there for a moment, stunned. Grand entrance or not, this wasn’t what I had wanted to happen. I didn’t want to kill anyone. Hell, I didn’t want anyone to die, not me and not them. I felt sick. It had been a sort of game, a macho contest of showmanship I had been determined to win. All of a sudden, it wasn’t a game anymore, and I just wanted to walk away from it alive.
Decent sentiment hamstrung by how over the top Harry was, and also the fact this shouldn’t be something new to him. Harry already fucked up his meeting with Bianca then had to sear her face off, and he didn’t seem shocked by the fact the macho contest of showmanship ended with a vampire swearing revenge. He’s not the best player, but he damn well knows the stakes he’s playing at.
Note also that Randall just died and he failed to realize what was happening in time, but this guy getting killed is what shakes him, because shit, an actual person died! He thought it was just a game of cops and robbers using dead prostitutes as props.
Much like my suggestion of Harry being bad at his job for the police because his magical education didn’t get very far and he’s having to learn a lot on the fly, a better written Harry could’ve conceivably misjudged the situation this badly, but it’d have to be a Harry who didn’t normally handle anything serious. He was upset and out of his depth, and, childishly, thought knocking some stuff over would scare everybody so they’d do what he said with no further repercussions whatsoever.
Marcone stood up, straightened his tie, then went and knelt by the body. He felt the man’s throat, then wrist, and shook his head. “Lawrence, Lawrence. I would have paid you twice what they offered you, if you’d come to me with it. You never were very smart, were you?”
This part is one of those things your heroic rich character often says, but I’m kind of dubious, especially here where we really don’t know how much the guy was offered – if Lawrence is getting love potions off the killer, well, you really can’t buy that.
“It would seem, Mr. Dresden,” he said, “that we have a common enemy.” He turned to focus his gaze on me. “Who is it?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. If I did, I wouldn’t be here. I thought maybe it was you.”
He just thought about the fact it wasn’t Marcone jesus christ book I’m trying to make you make sense could you stop making it harder.
Marcone lifted his eyebrows. “You should have known me better than that, Mr. Dresden.”
It was my turn to frown. “You’re right. I should have.” The killings had been more vicious, savage than Marcone would have cared to use. Competitors might have to be removed, but there would be no sense in making a production of it.
Unless there was a purpose in making a production of it. You just made a production of entering a building, the basic concept is clearly not alien to you. And that’s without even getting into the possibility that whoever’s doing the heartsplosions is doing it because it’s the only method they know – I can see Marcone being willing to accept a bit of splatter if it lets him murder people with magic, ie, that thing you can’t convict people for.
Harry never seems to even consider that and it’s driving me nuts. He even says stuff about the courts not being able to handle it, and yet consistently refuses to consider if that’s a factor in the killer’s decision. People have killed other people in all sorts of inventive ways to avoid anyone figuring out they were the one who did it.
Certainly, there was no reason to murder bystanders, like Linda, like Jennifer Stanton.
Except Randall wasn’t a bystander. I know it’s hard to believe sluts could have any purpose but barely-mourned fridging, but she knew, was willing to chat with you, and ended up calling the police to say she’d tell them. Since the heartsplosion is all about killing at a distance, if she knows she was probably involved, because it’s not the sort of thing where a witness just happens to see the guy shoot someone. Even if the sum total of her involvement was to know who did it, do you really think Marcone never kills witnesses? That it’s just his great lawyers who get him off, and never any further crimes to prevent people from talking?
And given we still aren’t sure who the killer is, we don’t know for sure that Stanton was uninvolved either. We have a pretty good idea of why the guy would heartsplode one of Marcone’s people, but that doesn’t prove Stanton was collateral damage, especially when this is a form of magic that not only lacks collateral damage but takes extra effort to aim at someone new.
It was inefficient, bad for business.
I’ve yet to see any evidence this has been bad for business. Not even sure how it could be given two of the three victims weren’t his people.
Bad for business is when the fighting endangers the people doing business for you – like, if drug dealers are getting into shootouts all the time, drug users have difficulty finding drugs or buying them without getting shot in the crossfire. Heartsplosions may look gory, but they seem pretty civilized in effect. Everyone killed by them is someone the murderer wanted dead. We know Marcone was willing to do regular shootouts to keep his territory. Heartsploding people is a huge step up, ethically.
But back to Harry, who loots the corpse to find no sign of his hair. He asks what more Marcone knows, and Marcone calmly, in what I imagine is the voice of a preschool teacher, explains that the time for working together was about five seconds prior to Harry deciding Marcone’s club was the right place to play king of the mountain. As a mob boss, he really can’t let people think it’s okay to pull this sort of thing. He does not say, but I think it’s just taken as assumed, that also Harry can’t even do the thing where he pays for the damages to restore face.
I cannot let that go without response, regardless of my personal feelings, without inviting more of the same.
I also choose to view this as a very diplomatic statement wherein he’s implying he’d like to do otherwise but technically didn’t say what his personal feelings are. That said, still the shippest this has been and yet still, I’m telling you he’s basically just being disappointed dad at all this.
Harry, being an idiot, assumes that Marcone needs to do something and Marcone patiently explains that Harry and the unknown killer are trying to annihilate each other, and they are both his enemies now so it’s one of those win-win situations. Best case, mutual death. Worst case, Harry dies without the killer leaving any further clues, meaning Marcone is no worse off than currently.
“But I think you will not be such easy prey. I think that even if he kills you, he will reveal himself in some way.
And I choose to interpret this as Marcone making fun of Harry, because no matter how over his head Harry is, he won’t disagree after hearing someone else thinks he’s badass, no matter how insincere the statement might be.
Of course, because Harry’s a sue, Marcone then says that was the business conversation, but he’s also willing to do the personal one where he tells Harry all he knows – sadly, not much though. Marcone does tell us enough to learn the guy’s apparently been running his criminal empire via hologram. He also confirms the drug isn’t coming through any mundane channel, but we already knew it was getting wizard produced. I’m not sure Harry got a word of this, though. Maybe in a few chapters he’ll suddenly realize what was said.
Marcone ends this by saying Harry’d better stay out of mob affairs from now on, and Harry’s all yeah it’s mutual, because Harry doesn’t really have ethics and anyway, Marcone’s a gentleman mobster who is so much better for the city than the alternative. Harry limps off to wallow in self-pity.