Okay, I wanted to like this. I really did. And it wasn't awful. In fact there's some good things going for this book, but it feels generic, predictable and quite a bit pulpy for me. If you're into the whole noir detective thing and crime stories narrated by that lonely P.I. with dangerous and beautiful female clients, cops and reporters chasing after him and a cheap stencil of his name on a door to an office with a rotating fan, this is the type of book for you. Not usually my field of interest, but there's magic! The idea of a wizard P.I. is kind of a novel one and on it's surface, it's appealing. Ultimately though, the novel falls victim to poor dialogue, the type of dry, self-deprecating first person narration you'd imagine over the same 150 detective movies from the 1930s and a rather uncomplicated plot as far as mysteries go. It's fairly easy to identify the Shadowman and put the pieces together yourself days before it even occurs to Dresden himself. As a consequence, there feels like there's a whole middle section where you're just waiting for him to figure it out so we can get on with the story. There just aren't many layers to this story the way there was in the world of Codex Alera to give it any sophistication or complexity. Maybe the fault lies in the collection and editing. The book was short, and feels more like a prelude to something bigger, but not satisfying in the way that Book One of Alera worked as a prelude to the greater epic in that word.
Altogether the book is super campy and would definitely appeal to fans of the contemporary magic genre. If that's your thing, I've definitely read worse and you would do well with Dresden Files. I've been assured that the series really picks up after book six (really, only after book six?) and for me the "good" of this book comes from some of the things Butcher sets up in the background, like the White Council and the bit of mystery surrounding Dresden's past himself. None of these are developed to any great depth in this book to its detriment. It feels like you don't even really get to know Dresden beyond the archetype P.I. The spells are kind of cool and the use of magic is not overbearing. The credit I give here is mainly in creating a world of magic set against the backdrop of the 21st century that isn't too hokey. There's a fun feel to this as well that tempts me to continue with the hope that it'll improve with some further development. Might pick up book two for some light reading in the future.