Continuing down my road of blatantly ignoring every book I had so carefully planned out to read, I was recommended Storm Front, the first in the Dresden Files series. Here's the review, to cut to the chase, but stay tuned if you're interested in some elaboration:
It's quick and fun and has it's heart in the right place, but it's not a solid read. The Sam Spade-esque parts of the story are enjoyable, but it's when the "wizard" aspect gets involved that things start to go a little fuzzy. Trying to combine fantasy with reality is difficult enough without trying to add on a discombobulated plot. I'm not sure if the ending was supposed to be a twist, I hope not, because it was fairly obvious from early on. There's quite a bit of over-explanation in the actual performance of magic and not enough explanation of background story, which I suppose is why it's the first of the series; but I'm not certain that this nibble was enough to get me to bite for all of the books. It felt a bit like Harry Potter grown up, grown jaded and grown lazy, and the almost bullet-pointed wrap up ending came as an abrupt change in tone. As if instead of watching the final moments of an epsiode of Fringe play out, what happened was after the climactic moment, they cut to commercial break and came back with placards spelling out what happened in abbreviated form. I would recommend based on originality, but only if you're looking for something quick and easy.
That's the short of it. The long(er) of it is that Harry Dresden is a private investigator who also happens to be a wizard. He's the only one in the phone book under "Wizards". He's sardonic in a throw-back-to-the-40s would-be-Bogie-if-he-wanted-to way. The only problem for me was, and this could be as a result of the fact that I'm coming back from a book that dealt with character for 1200 pages, that, even though there are lots of characters introduced, the only one you barely scratch the surface of is Dresden. And even with Dresden, there are too many questions left on the floor, presumably to be picked up and answered later in the series, that it made it somewhat difficult to want to become involved. The plot plays out in a predictable manner, and although the last chapters could legitimately be called "page-turners" I was surprised by the abrupt halt at the end, which, in my mind sounded a lot like squealing tires. The true problem is that there's no real fantasy world to get wrapped up in. It takes place in the real world, just a heightened version of the real world, and so the instances of fantasy seem to come as much more of a drawback to the plot than an enhancement of it. I think it's just a difference in priorities. This is a mystery novel with fantasy tendencies, but if it was a fantasy novel with mystery undertones, it could have been better. There's too much of both to declare for either genre and that's where the confusion lies. If you're into fantasy and need a quick read, this might be right up your alley, but if you're looking for substance, best keep perusing the bookshelf.
In case you were wondering The Dresden Files was formatted to fit your screens in 2007 by what is now the SyFy Channel. Here's the link to the Wikipedia page.
Even with all of that being said, I'm still giving it a 3, and yes, I know that's only half a star less than The Stand, but there's a very good reason for that: it didn't waste as much of my time and I appreciate that.