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Dead Beat: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0451460278
Date: May, 2005 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

If you think Jim Butcher is going big-time, now that his Harry Dresden novels are breaking into hardcover and working toward a debut on TV... you'd be right. But he's not resting on his laurels. If anything, Dead Beat ramps up the stakes in several dimensions.

Things start off with Harry being asked to water the houseplants of a lady friend while she flies off to Hawaii with a very dangerous companion. Harry is frustrated and jealous, but doesn't have time to sulk; the vicious Black Court vampire Mavra commands his presence and gives him a task to complete in 72 hours... or his vacationing lady friend's career will be absolutely destroyed. Harry must find something called the Word of Kemmler by midnight on Halloween or police lieutenant Karrin Murphy will suffer horribly.

Turns out Kemmler was a brilliant (and insane) necromancer who was largely responsible for World War I. His acolytes were never all accounted for, so Harry knows they will be seeking Kemmler's Word (his fourth and final book of death magic) for themselves. Also turns out his spirit ally Bob (who lives in a human skull) used to work for Kemmler... and he was not a "friendly spirit" in those days.

Harry pursues rumor and gossip to the city morgue, enlisting help from a high-strung mortician named Butters and an occult bookstore owner-- whose beautiful employee has gifts (and charms) of her own. Harry learns that the Word has the potential to put enormous magical power in the hands of whoever invokes it, but Mavra's blackmail means he cannot call upon anyone for help.

Caught in the crossfire of a not-so-friendly contest among Kemmler's disciples, including one old enemy Harry has not quite forgotten, Harry's out gunned and outmaneuvered. His only hope is deciphering the clues that will lead him to the Word itself... but even this may be useless unless he can figure out why a book on the mythic Erlking is suddenly the hottest occult title in Chicago.

Worst of all, Harry starts to fear he cannot trust himself, as new sources of power beckon. Can he avoid damnation even at the cost of his own life?

Butcher's Dresden novels continue to build in strength and intensity. Harry is a dynamite character, occupying a world full of occult menaces lurking in the shadows. He's often the last man standing, surviving by a combination of wits and raw power, underestimated by his enemies and spurned by his own peers in the wizardly White Council.

Butcher's cooked up some dynamite villains this time, too, in the form of the necromancers Grevane, the sinister fellow nicknamed "Liver Spots?, Cowl and Kumori, each of them stronger and more skilled in magic than Harry. His perpetual nemesis Morgan, Warden of the White Council, also returns... though the nature of this appearance (and what it means for Harry) may surprise some longtime readers.

Fans of urban fantasy will love it-- that's a given. But anyone who likes a fast-paced, exciting, character-driven novel should give Dead Beat a read. You won't be disappointed.

Highly recommended.

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