Dresden Files Storm Front Ch20

Harry takes a cab to his client’s house. You know, for someone whose magic supposedly wrecks cars, he’s sure riding in a lot of them without issue. You’d think every cabbie would have his photo with DO NOT PICK UP THIS MAN scrawled over it. Or a sketch, if photos don’t work either.

It was a cute little house, two stories

I wouldn’t normally take issue with this, but it’s part of the general issue of Harry supposedly spending his entire childhood poor, his teenagerhood apprenticed in some presumably isolated area, and his current adulthood poor, yet always sounding like a middle class or better person.

I mean, I have seen some two story houses that might be reasonably said to be little. I have definitely not seen any of those built recently, though, and this is explicitly new development because all the trees are new. In my experience, cute little = not absolutely sprawlingly huge.

But of course, Harry also lives in a two story house, so of course two stories is the minimum house size one has.

The street was a quiet one, and it took me a moment to realize that most of the houses on it were not occupied. FOR SALE signs stood in many of the yards. Sparse curtains draped over empty, gaping windows, like cobwebs. There wasn’t a lot of birdsong, for a street with so many trees, and I couldn’t hear any dogs barking as I walked along the sidewalk. Overhead, clouds were thickening, building up for another thunderstorm.

This is actually a pretty okay list of observations, although some trip over others – the lack of dogs barking probably has to do with the fact the houses aren’t inhabited, you know? (Unless Chicago is normally overrun with roving dog packs.) And the lack of birdsong with the coming storm.

Taken all together, it had the feel of someplace blighted, a place where a black wizard had set up shop.

What, seriously?

Remember back with their lakeside house, how it was wooden but designed to look like it wasn’t, and it was smaller than a lot of the others? Now we learn that they’ve got a nice suburban house, but it sounds like it was in a new development that didn’t take off properly. What this all seems like to me is people who are trying to look more prosperous than they are – there was a certain type of house the husband needed to have to prove he was successful enough to be employeed at his important rich person job, but they couldn’t actually afford that in an established neighborhood, so they picked a cheap new development only to find the reason it was so cheap was it was in an area people didn’t like as much (too far out, maybe) so their neighbors didn’t move in and the place’s value began to slowly deflate.

All this fits so perfectly with a husband obsessed with being successful but unlucky in employment.

But no, lack of pet dogs in a neighborhood that lacks people proves black magic.

Anyway, Harry heads for the door and eventually Monica Sells answers it.

She was dressed in jeans, a plain flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and her hair was covered by a bandana. She wore no makeup. She looked both older and more appealing that way-I think maybe because it was a more natural look for her, something that was closer to the sort of person she really was, rather than the nicer clothes and jewelry she’d worn when she visited my office.

Okay, so maybe we’ve been a trifle unfair to Harry. While he does like tasteful makeup that looks like it isn’t there, apparently what really gets his motor running is a woman too worn down to keep applying it. Oh yeah, show that depression baby.

She tells him to go away. He says no. She says she’ll call the police. He says he’ll tell them everything if she does. He helpfully informs us this is a total bluff and he still has no clue what’s going on.

My instincts paid off.

Oh my god I just realized this is violating that rule about how female detectives shouldn’t use “feminine intuition” as a crutch for solving mysteries, that is exactly what Harry is doing he just keeps saying instinct instead!

He then throws himself into the door and forces it open, then sees her face and realizes he must look murderous, at which point he tries to rein himself in because It wouldn’t profit me anything to lose control. This reminds me of Gamergate and their “we shouldn’t outright drive people into killing themselves because that’d make us look bad, let’s aim to stop precisely short of that”. You’re not a good person because you hold yourself back from attacking an innocent person solely because that’s better for you.

While Harry’s trying to get his raging murder emotions under control, the poor woman tries to taze him with a “stunner” because technically taser is a brand name so you’re not supposed to use it in novels. Sadly, Harry avoids it.

Poor, poor Monica Sells now begins raving about how she won’t let Harry touch her kids, because mothers are only good if they’re defined solely around motherhood and protecting their kids. They lock eyes.

And the pieces all fell into place. Knowing the emotions that drove her, the terrible love that she was showing even now, it all seemed perfectly obvious, and I felt stupid for not figuring it out days ago.

Apparently Harry needed to soulgaze to figure out the emotion she’s currently showing right now.

It got to within about three inches of me, the light bright in my eyes. Then I drew in a breath and puffed it out onto the stunner, along with an effort of will. There was a spark, a little puff of smoke, and then it went dead in her hands, like every other electronic gizmo seemed to do whenever I came around. Hell, I was surprised it had taken as long as it did to stop working.

This is just bad writing. The author wants the character to be threatened by the “stunner”, so he just says somehow it managed to work until right when he’d already grabbed her arm and could’ve disarmed her normally.

So much of the plot is like this. He uses magic to ask a fairy to tell him what’s up, but he could easily have just asked a teenager or seen a pizza box in the trash and called the company from there. He uses his bloodhound spell to track the hair-thief…to the place he was already assuming the guy was and would’ve headed to anyway. The fact he has access to magic doesn’t actually change things.

A soulgaze is never something pleasant or simple. God, sometimes I hated that I had to live with that. I hadn’t wanted to know that she had been abused as a child. That she’d married a man who provided her with more of the same, as an adult. That the only hope or light that she saw in her life was in her two children. There hadn’t been time to see all of her reasons, all of her logic. I still didn’t know why she had drawn me into this entire business-but I knew that it was, ultimately, because she loved her two kids.

Yeah. Because if a woman has a backstory, it’s rape.

Do you know why it’s for her kids? Because she hasn’t the right to do it for herself. We feel a distant sympathy for someone abused as a kid, but we also recognize them as fundamentally broken so there’s nothing really lost if anything else happens to them. Plus she’s a woman and it’s just not acceptable for women to trick men into helping them. Even though men would totally help them. But they shouldn’t try to get men to help them. Men would. But don’t or men will be mad at you for it.

It’s not yet acceptable to be angry about having to help kids, though, so that’s the last excuse left.

This is all very important for establishing she is not a femme fatale who dares act in her own interest.

It took Monica Sells a moment to recover herself. She did it with remarkable speed, as though she were a woman used to drawing on a mask again after having it knocked off.

Kind of like Bianca!

Bear in mind the soulgaze happened because she forgot to avert her eyes. Harry was staring at her the whole time, and even says he knows it’s happening because she forgot, but he doesn’t look away.

Harry likes knocking women’s masks off.

She learns he’d next on the heartsplosion list, and asks him to leave.

A door opened, in the hallway behind Monica. A girl, on the gawky end of preadolescence, with hair the color of her mother’s, leaned out into the hallway. “Mom?” she said in a quavering voice. “Mom, are you okay? Do you want me to call the police?”

What say you, Bechdel pass? The stated subject is “call the police” and it’s only the implied subject that is “because a man is threatening you”.

The correct answer is, if you have to debate if something’s a Bechdel pass because it’s one of the only conversations that could pass in the whole book, this proves the point about the omnipresence of men.

Jenny put a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “C’mon, Billy.” She looked at me for just a moment. Her eyes were too old and too knowing for a child her age.

I’m going to go with this being because she’s seen Daddy beating Mommy a lot by now. I’m not totally sure but generally if the kids are directly abused, they no longer count under the “you can’t get angry about having to help kids” clause, so I think the “too old” is suffering by proxy.

Also, note Harry is so dedicated to it being other people’s problem if they lock eyes with him he keeps his eyes trained on even a kid’s gaze. Luckily the kid looked away in time.

The woman Harry is still bullying begins to cry about how her husband will come for Harry when the storm does and if he finds Harry here really bad things will happen to the rest of them.

I had to have her help. No matter how much pain she was in, no matter what kind of agony she was going through, I had to have her help.

Bear in mind that Harry’s goal is still what it’s been for the entire book: personal survival. And now he is absolutely willing to risk killing her and her kids to get it. He continues to play chicken with her by refusing to leave and bullying her about how if she doesn’t help him it’ll be all her fault he’s dead, and not his for spending his time on this rather than that spell to find his hair himself.

And she agrees, because Harry is an alpha male and everyone has to do what he says.

11 Comments

  1. Roarke says:
    Harry takes a cab to his client’s house. You know, for someone whose magic supposedly wrecks cars, he’s sure riding in a lot of them without issue. You’d think every cabbie would have his photo with DO NOT PICK UP THIS MAN scrawled over it. Or a sketch, if photos don’t work either.

    You know, there would be a good way to make this work, and that’s by tying it to “ownership,” like the houses thing. Wizards and other paranormal creatures can’t enter houses because people live there, make their lives there, and leave an imprint on it. So a wizard’s magic is dulled if he walks into a house uninvited.
    The same should be true for technology. Normally a wizard busts up anything high-tech, but if you’ve got a personal computer that you log a ton of hours on, like Murphy, or a cab that you drive 8 hours a day, like a cabbie, the wizard’s aura won’t affect it as much, because you own it. This would explain why Harry has to own super old stuff, but can still ride cabs and whatnot. There would be exceptions. Marcone’s car, for instance, would probably be really new and not used terribly often because he has 3-4 others, so Harry can affect it to a limited degree. In the same vein, public devices that a lot of people use are almost as vulnerable as if Harry himself can claim ownership of it, because it’s not “attached” to any one person.

    Also, if Harry asks to borrow your car or phone, that makes it more susceptible because you’re temporarily relinquishing it to him – like inviting him to your house.

    I had other comments to make on this but I’ve forgotten what they were.

    Oh, right. There’s a disturbing trend (I’m on book 3) in The Dresden Files. So far, there is always a woman (not Murphy) who asks Harry for his help within the first chapter or two, very early in the book. She’s always tricking him, or leaving out important information, and he always has his chivalry speech about how he knows the woman is leaving something out and she’ll probably screw him over, but he can’t not help her because he is chivalrous. The woman is always bribing him. In this book, Monica gives a $500.00 retainer up front. The next woman is buying him steak at McAnally’s. The one in the third book offers sex, or rather she assumes he is demanding sex when he says he’s going to need a few things before he protects her and makes it clear she’s not saying “no” (and oh my God will that be a hilarious ragefest if/when you get to it). It’s really unsettling.

    1. GeniusLemur says:
      Of course, in book 2 the woman’s got no reason to hold things back, and every reason not to. But then the plot couldn’t proceed as “planned,” so she holds back information and gets killed.
      On the other side of the equation, once Harry’s looked at and analyzed the diagram and gotten the lowdown on the types of werewolves, he’d have to have an IQ of less than 20 to not figure out what it’s for.
      1. Roarke says:
        The woman needed to be killed so that Harry would feel bad for having failed her, as well. We’re not supposed to sympathize with the woman – she’s a dumb bitch who ran to a man for help but decided to do everything herself rather than trust him. We’re supposed to sympathize with Harry for feeling like he failed her, even though he was not at fault for her failure and subsequent death.
        1. Farla says:
          In fairness, if he’s aware he’s in noir-inspired fiction, there really was nothing he could do once he realized she was an independent woman. (In original noir the woman survived plenty of the time, but noir-inspired, she’s dead.)
          1. Roarke says:
            More proof that writers as a whole take two steps back for every step forward.
    2. Farla says:
      You know, there would be a good way to make this work, and that’s by tying it to “ownership,”

      That is at once excellent and a bad fit for the lone wolf cut off from technology thing.

      It’s like the Unknown Armies magic type that gets power from hoarding money, the obvious thing to do is to make friends with people who can get around the limitation. If you need to make a phone call, asking someone on the street won’t be productive, because the permission might be enough to fry it. Instead, have friends to use technology for you, and also to not get upset if they aren’t around and you have to break into their house to access something without asking.

      They should be very social creatures. Wizards shouldn’t be Harry the lone wolf detective, they should be Marcone, able to travel around in nice cars because they’re technically the property of the mayor he’s got in his pocket, has ipods that last days at a time because he buys them all using tax fraud so they’re not “his”, etc. Or at least, they should be working for the mob and getting stuff left at their house without it ever officially being theirs.

      1. Roarke says:
        Well, yeah. I don’t want it to work specifically for Harry, I just want it to work, period. The wizard’s lifestyle, if lone-wolf, might involve quite a bit of theft and other means of avoiding getting permission. They’d use public facilities and actually avoid contact with anyone who would probably just hand their stuff over when asked.

        This would make them a straight-up criminal (and indeed, your idea of wizard as mobsters sounds much better). But they could still be a noir detective if their police handler looks the other way, knowing it’s for the greater good.

  2. GeniusLemur says:
    Boy it’s amazing how the “wizards break all gadgets” thing just appears and disappears at random. It’s as if the author ignores it when it’s inconvenient or just can’t be bothered with his own worldbuilding.

    And the soulgazing too. Amazing how that only happens or even gets mentioned when Harry needs to get hit with a clue sledgehammer yet again.

    1. Farla says:
      Well, he remembers it when it can help Harry out, so it’s not totally random.
  3. GeniusLemur says:
    You know, this whole setup would work better if he was an actual old-fashioned PI, and this is his introduction to the world of wizarding. Then, in subsequent books, as people bring him further cases involving magic (because he solved this one) he learns more about magic and starts practicing it. That way, he would usually be the newcomer, the amateur, the troublemaking intruder, the guy who’s lower-powered because he has less training and experience. But being a hardboiled PI, he could come out on top by using his skills as a detective, like being a good judge of people, to stay a step or two ahead of his opponents.

    Wait, that would require him to be smart and have actual skills and not be the strongest wizard around and not be unfairly persecuted by the council over killing his mentor which is in no way Harry’s fault and also *gasp* not be alpha male.

    1. Farla says:
      Hm. Maybe he’s aware of magic in a streetsmart sense, which is why he’s consulted on weird cases, but this is his first experience with human magic because wizardry is/was very rare. His first case is going up against an amateur who knows barely more than he does, then the stakes raise in subsequent books.

      That’d also let him be a magic geek while not knowing all this stuff already.

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