Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
“Hell’s Bells” count – 13
While I was on my long commute to work (not so bad, as it affords me more reading time), I wondered what the Harry Dresden from Storm Front would have made of the Harry Dresden from this book. I imagine he probably would have been scared. And to be honest, I don’t think I would be able to blame him.
There’s necromancy afoot in Chicago, and as much as he doesn’t want to be, Harry is in the middle of all of it. He’s been charged by one of the most dangerous vampires in the world, Mavra of the Black Court, to find the missing volume of a series written by one of the most notorious necromancers in human history. When the necromancer Kemmler was alive, it took nearly the entire fighting force of the White Council of Wizards to stop him. Now his disciples are all hunting for the book, trying to be the first one to kill everyone in Chicago and become a god.
It’s a mission he can’t refuse. If he should do so, Mavra has evidence in her possession that would destroy the career of one of the people closest to Harry – Lt. Karrin Murphy of the Chicago Police Department. In the previous book, Murphy helped Harry take out a nest of Black Court vampires, killing several humans who had been enthralled to the vamps. These Renfields were human only by technicality, but a photograph of Murphy blowing one’s head off would still be damning evidence. Should Harry not do what Mavra wants, the pictures would be released, and the one thing that Murphy truly loves would be gone.
The point of this book, broadly, is Harry discovering that past actions still have present consequences, and that the choices he has to make are not always good ones. While Harry does save the day, he does so at a cost.
Harry has become legitimately scary by this book. His friends and his allies aren’t sure about him anymore, either his motives or his sanity. The people who have stood steadfastly by him now find themselves afraid of him, and what he might do. And for good reason, really. Harry’s been through a lot in the last few books. He’s lost the woman he loves to the Red Court vampires, he very nearly lost his hand fighting Mavra and he’s now absolutely terrified of using fire magic as a result. On top of all that, he’s discovered that being someone’s brother doesn’t automatically mean you get to understand them. Or like them. Or be able to live with them.
So yeah, Harry’s had it rough. With most humans, it’s hard to see change from the inside, and I’m sure Harry doesn’t think he’s changed all that much. He knows he’s gotten a little angrier, maybe a little more solitary, but from his point of view it’s a logical progression. For people who aren’t with him all the time – Billy the Werewolf, Mac the World’s Best Tavern Owner, for example, the changes are drastic. And truly frightening. Harry’s still a good guy, don’t worry about that.
He’s just not a nice guy.
This book is awash in general awesomeness, and introduces a lot of good new characters, both on the good and bad sides. My favorite is Waldo Butters, the Medical Examiner for the Chicago PD. He goes from being a slightly quirky ME who kind of believes in the weird and unusual (he spent 90 days under psychiatric evaluation when he refused to classify vampire remains as human). By the end of the book, he becomes positively heroic, and is a very good avatar for The Reader. We all like to believe that we would take the world of the supernatural, if it existed, in stride, but we probably would have reacted just like Butters did when he first saw things he was not prepared for – denial, disbelief and then abject terror. He comes around, though, as I’m sure all of us would.
We also get to meet a few of the remaining Wardens of the White Council. The war has gone very hard on their numbers, and there are very, very few available to fight a group of mad necromancers in Chicago. The Red Court has dealt them such heavy blows that it’s not unreasonable to think that there’s a mole in the White Council somewhere. Who it is, though, will have to wait for another book. Their numbers have been slashed, and they need every able-bodied magic user they can get. The deal they offer Harry for their assistance is a surprising one, but makes perfect sense. And it will play heavily into the books that follow.
There’s also one genuine “Holy Shit” moment in this book. I won’t tell you what it is, because that would just spoil the whole thing. All I can say is that it’s at the end of chapter 38. You can’t miss it.
From here on out, this is going to be a very different series. Bigger, darker, as if that were possible, building on the foundation of the previous books to make something far more elaborate and interesting. I can’t wait to see what it ends up being.
“Polka will never die!”
– Waldo Butters, Dead Beat