Skip to content

Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, Antagonist

Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, Antagonist published on 8 Comments on Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, Antagonist

fallen murphy

Part I (of MANY)

Judging by the various threads, comments, and pot-stirring in the Jim Butcher Appreciation Society, the topic of Karrin Murphy is a polarizing one. Some express mild shock and genuine bafflement when it’s suggested that Murphy is not the paragon she appears to be from Summer Knight to Changes. But a reread of Storm Front and Fool Moon reminds us that while she’s never been the boss fight, she was an antagonist more surely than Donald Morgan. Hear me out. An antagonist is someone who “actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something”. In this case, Murphy actively opposes and is hostile to Harry Dresden. An old, old interview with Jim Butcher that was published back when Death Masks just came out and Furies of Calderon was still Shepherdboy’s Fury, reveals his motivation in creating the characters of John Marcone and Karrin Murphy:

“I needed someone to provide both threat and distraction for Harry in Storm Front, for example, and got two characters who could do those jobs. John Marcone got to show up as the negative criminal element of the story, the human face of lawlessness and crime. Karrin Murphy is his opposite in number, representative of the law, society, and order. Neither one of them seems to do much for Harry that doesn’t make his day worse and worse, nine times out of ten, but no one’s perfect.”

Murphy is hostile to Harry from the beginning. While Dresden is a police consultant that Murphy has worked with time and again, she treats him more like a confidential informant: he is expected to drop everything and serve her: ““Dresden, I’ve sort of got a pair of corpses with no leads and no suspects, and a killer walking around loose. Your appointment can wait.” Murphy shows no real professional courtesy toward Dresden. She treats him like a confidential informant—someone who is useful to her, someone she can dominate, and someone who is just like every other criminal she comes across, except that she’s using him to gain access to other criminals.

This behavior does not change in Fool Moon.

Murphy forgets halfway through the books that she’s hired Dresden to seek information on her cases, and then suspects him of being the perpetrator. While this is more spectacularly done in Fool Moon, the pattern is also evident in Storm Front. Murphy orders Dresden to the scene of the crime, orders him to figure out how two people were murdered by magic (ignoring the fact Dresden told her he couldn’t), then—when he reveals he’s been doing exactly as she told him to, but with methods she disapproves of—she threatens to arrest him. Then, when Dresden’s fighting for his life and hers against a scorpion that came to life because Murphy wouldn’t listen, she shackles him to her. This reveals the prideful, arrogant, and often stupidly focused mentality of the main cop character in the Dresden Files. Dresden was owed an apology at the end of Storm Front, but Murphy conveniently forgot what a stubborn fool she was attempting to arrest him while they were under attack by a magically constructed scorpion.

Fool Moon is even worse. She shows up at the beginning just in time to pick up a scrap of paper she would later use to incriminate Harry Dresden in the death of his first “apprentice” (though Kim Delaney was not nearly as strong as Molly Carpenter has proven to be, nor was it an official apprenticeship; Harry was more of a mentor). There had been a death, and it was not until they were driving to it that it is revealed to be outside of her jurisdiction. The FBI shows up to intimidate and threaten, and after Agent Benn has taken out her gun and fired at Murphy, Murphy goes along with the lie that it had been an accident. Murphy upholds the law as long as a fellow law enforcement official is not the one breaking it.

Her greetings to Harry are, in general, angry and impatient: “About time, Dresden. Get up here.”

Murphy manipulates Harry into helping her: “After that, it’ll be simple for them to get some charges going on me for complicity or obstruction. And they’ll probably try to get to you, too. Harry, we’ve got to catch the killer, or killers. Or I’m history.” There is no logical reason for Dresden to be indicted for the events of Storm Front, nor would an investigation turn up incriminating evidence against a licensed investigator doing his job. Both times, Murphy dragged Harry into the case; both times she bullied and harassed him into the job—usually by threatening arrest—and both times she built a case against him (including a paperwork trail) at the same time he was helping her.

Murphy does not see a happy ending for a romance between them. Several times in the series, Murphy threatens Dresden that a romance would not end well for him. The first of these occasions happens in Storm Front, and sets the tone of their friendship.

And here we venture forth into speculation. Chapter Two of Storm Front introduces the reader to Murphy (in the flesh, as it were). They meet outside the Madison and head together to the grisly crime scene, and Dresden has a niggling doubt about her: “My shadow and Murphy’s fell on the floor, and almost looked as though they were sprawled there. There was something about it that bothered me, a nagging little instinct that I blew off as a case of nerves.” Butcher has used shadows for very interesting things later on in the series – for one, Nicodemus Archleone can listen in on almost any conversation he wants to by using his Denarian, Anduriel (whose name, coincidentally, I’m sure, means “shadow of Uriel”). Later on in Storm Front, Dresden mentions that the mark He Who Walks Behind has on him “could still be seen upon me by those who knew how, by using the Third Sight, stretching out behind me like a long and horribly shaped shadow.” Whatever it is that caused that moment of doubt has not been made clear. Yet.

There is also the fact that some of Murphy’s backstory contradicts itself. In “Restoration of Faith”, set no more than four years prior to the events of Storm Front, Murphy is a young beat cop. In Storm Front, she is a lieutenant and department head “who had to fight and claw and play dirty with the hairiest men in Chicago to get as far as she has.” Making lieutenant and becoming a department head in less than three years is not only highly unlikely given the amount of time one has to stay at one rank before one can test for a higher rank, but is a meteoric rise that could hardly have been hampered by institutionalized sexism. There are several possibilities for this: 1) Butcher neglected his research in this one area, 2) Murphy is a plant from someone who can pull strings (like government spooks) at a city level, 3) Murphy isn’t human, and can enforce her will and remake her little corner of reality, etc.

In closing, at the 2011 Boston signing, Butcher mentioned this: “I know that a lot of the folks that are generally perceived as bad guys aren’t necessarily, there are several who are currently perceived as good guys who aren’t necessarily, and we’ll continue to have those fall out over the next several books.” Lieutenant Karrin Murphy is the prime candidate for the betrayal that will hurt Harry all the way to his core. I’ve got an idea of who will eventually unmask her and why, but that will have to wait for another day.

Do you think it's possible that Murphy will turn out to have been Harry's adversary all along?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


The talented Andrea Gonzales is responsible for the lovely photograph. She can be found at various spots on the web, including here.

The views expressed in this post don’t necessarily reflect the views of the people in the photograph, but they did give their permission.

J Wilbanks

J Wilbanks

Reviewer and Columnist at Galleywampus
She has a cat.
J Wilbanks


I think the survey at the end is leading and next to useless… even though the article does rehash things Butcher has said in interviews about his original intent for the character fairly well… even though her character’s purpose clearly changed in Grave Peril and forward.

Okay, we all know Murphy was a bit of a bitch to Harry in Storm Front and Fool Moon. That was due to the fact that Harry was keeping secrets from his client. Remember, Janelle, she was paying him for information and he was withholding that information from her under some guise of protecting her. She’s not a child she doesn’t need Harry’s protection she can decide whether the risk is one worth taking if Harry gives her the information. Also, consider the fact she is a woman trying to do a job in a male-dominated field. Also, take into account the Harry is considered a fraud my many. So although I think she was a little heavy handed with him she was justified in her response.

Oh, come one, Janelle, she played along with the FBI because she was out of her jurisdiction. She was being investigated. She didn’t want to make her life any harder and let’s face it cops stick together. We all know this.

There are plenty of reasons why Harry would be a suspect. He practices Witchcraft. Okay, he could be fraud, but he could also be a nutjob who likes to sacrifice people on an altar. It’s perfectly reasonable to think Harry is a suspect in a black magic type killing.

The whole relationship thing for me comes down to the fact that she never had a close relationship with her father. Now bare with me. I’m not saying she wanted a sexual relationship with her father, but she was looking on some subconscious level a closeness that she never had with her father. Which made her marry someone older than her. That didn’t work out. Neither did her second relationship because Murphy needs to be seen as an equal and her second husband wanted her to be a housewife. Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a housewife, but in her mind that is unacceptable. Murphy doesn’t play well with others and she’s afraid to lose Harry as a friend and more importantly as a colleague because deep down she’s broken and, in my opinion, is unable to handle a healthy relationship that’s why she ended up with Kincaid.

Well done, Janelle! Most people justify their feelings for characters with gut instinct. I appreciate your supporting points, and look forward to the counter article. Also, I like the survey, especially the option to say you are full of shit :) That’s humility right there.

Harry hasn’t soulgazed her, but he’s seen her multiple times with his Sight. Each time she was downright angelic, save for some filth the second time that she likely picked up as she learned that comprises have to be made. There’s no reason to believe she’s anything other than what Harry saw with his Sight. Hell, I trust Mister’s good opinion as well. If he’ll live with her, she’s okay.

All of the secondary characters were stilted for a book or two, not going to lie, Murphy especially. It isn’t until Summer Knight that Butcher seems to find a voice for her that isn’t just ‘generic angry lady cop.’ I didn’t like her at all until then. As for the ‘meteoric rise’ in career, to me it reads more like the police brass gave her a ‘promotion’ to her own department to get her out of the way. Harry describes Special Investigations as being an underfunded hole where cops get sent if they start questioning the status quo, where everyone pays for their own coffee and sometimes Murphy pays him out of her own pocket. From Death Masks on, she has had a lot of character development, accepting that Harry can’t tell her everything, she no longer treats him like an informant but more like a partner; there is much deeper trust in their working relationship. So yeah, an antagonist, but I wouldn’t say ‘evil.’ Bossy, maybe, especially in Storm Front, and possibly on the verge of a breakdown from having learned that monsters are real, stressed from the responsibility of running a department, and probably getting an ulcer from dealing with Harry Keepin’ Secrets Dresden. That would make anyone come off as evil.

Primary Sidebar