The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher, is an urban horror/fantasy series featuring private eye Harry Dresden, who also happens to be the only wizard listed in the Chicago Yellow Pages. He’s a very grounded wizard, mind you — he keeps his spell tools in one pocket and a revolver in the other, just in case he runs into something more mundane. But this is not the Chicago you’re thinking of — a clean, safe place for tourists and business people alike. This Chicago is a dangerous place. Perils — thugs, criminals, mafia, vampires (incubi and succubi are bundled in with them), demons borne from 30 cursed silver coins, ghosts, faeries, and dark wizards — wait in the shadows. And Harry and his friends and allies (wizards, werewolves, cops, and Knights of the Cross among them) have to work hard to keep back the ever-flowing tide of darkness that threatens to overtake the city and the world at large.

Some of you may have heard of this series by way of the TV show of the same name that ran for a single season on the SciFi Channel some years back, which wasn’t bad, but the novel series — which includes 13 books to date, with the most recent being Ghost Story — far outstrips it. There’s also a worthwhile tabletop role-playing-game system that’s been written within the universe of the novels, with Harry and some other characters discussing and arguing over stats and write-ups in the margins.

The series has done a great job of keeping a major story going crossing over the multitude of books, while also managing to maintain a balance between its more fantastical elements and the solid and grounded aspects of the hard-boiled detective story. With each new novel comes a new threat and objective, fleshed out with a fantastic cast of characters. The third novel for example introduces Michael Carpenter, a friend of Harry, a carpenter, family man, and Knight of the Cross (one of the nails of the cross is in his sword’s hilt).

If you’re looking for a good laugh to kick off your reads for 2012, you’ll find plenty here. Packing in a great sense of humor, these books, copies of which are available at Queens Library, tap into many facets of pop culture, including an argument in one book over which members of the Fellowship each character would be, or two wizards arguing over the merits of Star Trek versus Star Wars.