Harry Dresden is a powerful wizard and a private investigator. In fact, he's the only professional, openly practicing wizard in Chicago. Normally, he works on cases with the Chicago Police Department's Special Investigations unit, the ones they call in when a case can't be explained through normal human reasoning. Karrin Murphy, head of the unit and Harry's liaison officer, has become a close friend whom Harry has realized he'd like to be a whole lot more. As one of the few people who actually believes in the things that go bump in the night, she sometimes helps him out of sticky situations that aren't police related. Such was the case when she assisted him with taking down a coven of Black Court vampires. The only problem is that now Mavra, the Black Court queen, has incriminating photos of this operation that could get Murphy sent to jail if her superiors see them. Mavra uses the information to blackmail Harry into finding The Word of Kemmler for her by Halloween night, just three days away. With no idea exactly what The Word of Kemmler is, Harry finds himself in a race against time to locate it, while battling with six powerful necromancers who also want to find it for themselves so they can change the entire world order and raise one of them to godlike status. Even using every resource at his disposal, it may not be enough for Harry to save the world from being decimated and overrun by a horde of zombies.
Dead Beat is another strong entry in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. In this one, Harry's skills as a wizard are pitted against six powerful necromancers who are seeking ultimate godlike powers. Only one will rise, but in order to do so they must first find a book known as The Word of Kemmler, which was written by the most powerful necromancer who ever lived. It took pretty much the entire White Council to take him down decades ago. They also need another old rare book about a king of the fairies, so Harry finds himself in a race against time to track down both books before the necromancers do or the entire human race could be doomed.
I very much enjoyed Dead Beat, but perhaps not quite as much as the last couple of books in the series. After thinking it over, I believe the reasons are twofold. One is that I felt like the narrative maybe could have been a little tighter. Sometimes my mind wandered a bit while reading, although it could have just been me. I also may not have been quite as engaged as I usually am with these stories, because it didn't feel like there was a lot of forward progression in the series story arc in this book. There is some progress in that we learn how things are going in the war between the Red Court vampires and the White Council, but this doesn't come about until very late in the story. At that point, there is a big change in store for Harry, because of where things stand for the wardens in the war. We also learn exactly how Harry is affected by him taking the Denarius coin, which embodies the demon, Lasciel, that occurred in Death Masks. Other than these things, I don't recall much else of import happening that seemed to directly affect the series as a whole, so while Dead Beat was an entertaining book that somewhat stands on it own, it didn't draw me in as deeply as the last couple of stories. I think maybe I was looking for more development for the characters who are already on the canvas that didn't really take place.
Harry is still a great character whose magical powers seem to gradually grow with each book. Despite being a powerful wizard in his own right, he still isn't as powerful as many other wizards, so he does have a tendency to get the crap beat out of him pretty often, and this book was no exception. He's kind of like a Timex watch, though. He takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'.;-) I had to admire his ability to resist the temptations that Lasciel placed in front of him, and his intelligence in dealing with her in a way that helps rather than harms his cause. Harry is the type of guy who colors outside the lines on occasion, and I enjoy his ingenuity. He has a nice balance between his heroic, chivalrous side and something just a tad darker that helps him get the job done. Even seven books into the series, I still adore Harry and can't wait to read more of his adventures. I think there's lots more of his story to tell, and I'm eager to find out more about him and watch him continue to grow, both as a person and as wizard.
In this book, Karrin Murphy goes out of town for a long-overdue vacation, so rather than working with the CPD on a case, Harry is more or less on his own. He's being blackmailed by Mavra, the Black Court vampire queen. She tasks him with finding The Word of Kemmler before the necromancers do, or she'll release incriminating photos of Murphy killing vampires to her CPD superiors. Harry has little choice but to comply, but in the course of the story, he acquires a new sidekick. Waldo Butters, a city medical examiner, who was briefly introduced in an earlier book takes up this mantle, albeit somewhat reluctantly. I got a kick out of Butters and his obsession with polka music. He's one of the few humans besides Murphy who actually believes in the things that go bump in the night, and his curiosity and desire to learn everything he can about what Harry does and exactly what's out there is cute. Butters is very timid and easily frightened, though, but he grows in courage as the story progresses. He's also a quick study. Additionally, we find out that he's the doctor who's been taking care of Harry's badly burned hand, and he discovers some interesting things about a wizard's genetic makeup that could pose some interesting situations down the road.
While I did enjoy Butters, I think I was hoping for more development for other characters, Thomas being one of them. In the previous book, we found out that Thomas, a White Court vampire, is Harry's half-brother. Thomas's family kicked him out and revoked his access to the family fortune, so he moved in with Harry. They've been living together in Harry's little apartment for a year and are starting to get on each other's nerves a bit. But at the same time, I could feel the brotherly love and very much enjoy the bond they've developed. He really went to bat to help Harry out of a few rough spots in this story. I was amused by the fact that poor Thomas can't seem to keep a job for more than a few weeks, but that part was only at the beginning of the book. There is one touching scene where we learn just how hard it is for Thomas to survive without the love of his life. He still pines for the only woman he's ever loved, but as an incubus, he must take sustenance from humans where he can find it, which is really difficult for him in more ways than one. I hope that Thomas can find some happiness down the line, because I really like him. I think he'd make a great romantic hero.;-)
In this book, Harry finally admits to himself that what he feels for Murphy is a little more than just friendship, but she has an unexpected companion for her vacation and Harry doesn't fess up before she leaves. With that being the case, I thought that a new romantic relationship was going to develop for him, when he meets a pretty girl in an arcane bookshop, but things don't precisely go as planned. This was a little disappointing, because I thought she was pretty likable and would have made a good match for Harry until I found out exactly who she is. I guess the way things went on this front was still intriguing, though.
Overall, Dead Beat was a fun book. My favorite part of the story was a sub-plot involving Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex (a real dinosaur skeleton that can be found at the Field Museum in Chicago). I can't mention any more about that, though, without giving away some major spoilers, so let's just say dinosaurs = awesome! We also get to learn more about where Bob came from too, so in hindsight, maybe I wasn't entirely fair with my earlier assessment about there not being a lot of character development. It just happens in small bits and pieces throughout the book, rather than in more significant chunks, and it tends to be a little overshadowed by the mystery and suspense. But despite my slight criticisms, Dead Beat was still an enjoyable read, and I'm very much looking forward to continuing with the series.
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