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Bewildering Stories

Jim Butcher, Dead Beat

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Dead Beat
Author: Jim Butcher
Publisher: Roc, 2005
Length: 435 pages
ISBN: 0-451-46901-X

I just looove discovering a new series that I enjoy. There’s that wonderful anticipation: seven more books in the series that I have yet to read. Oooh! And as a librarian, one of the privileges of my disgustingly underpaid job, my woefully nearsighted, over-used eyes, the sore feet I take home at night and the sufferance of the occasional ill-mannered, unshaven patron who screams it ought to be his turn now on the one public Internet computer, is that I can order them all at once. Just for little old me. Tell me a pleasure (that I can write about in a family-rated zine, I mean) equal to that one.

OK, so some of you out there have already discovered Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, featuring that black sheep, Chicago gumshoe, Harry Dresden (who is a wizard on the side, I should mention). It’s been real unfriendly of you, as we say out here in the West, to keep the news to yourself. I could have been on book number five by now if you’d just talked.

Dead Beat is book seven in the series, (I think), and there’s one more after (Proven Guilty). But you can jump right in. Harry Dresden is a wizard who helps out the Chicago police Special Investigations now and then. His day’s turning out pretty bad. His half-brother is bunking at his apartment, jobless and wrecking havoc with the décor. The woman Harry’s more than half-way struck on takes off on a sex-fling with the office cad, and just to twist the knife a little more, she asks Harry to water her plants while she’s gone. Isn’t that the deepest cut of all? You’re my good ol’ pal?

Then a really ugly vampire pulls a little blackmail. She’s got some photographs that neither Harry nor his boss (the same slumming female who’s off with the office Romeo) would like to see published. She wants Harry to find her a book. (I wanted to offer my services here, but...) The book is called the Word of Kemmler, and it was, of course, written by a very bad man, a necromancer.

Supposedly, the White Council of Wizards (of which Harry is on less than comfortable terms) has snatched up everything bad old Kemmler wrote. Only the news that’s there something still out there has gotten around to all the wrong parties. Harry, who’s on the edge of being #1 on the White Council’s hit list, doesn’t dare ask for help though he needs it. Soon he’s falling over one would-be impatient reader after another. They’re all necromancers, they’re all nasty customers, and they all think Harry can lead them right to what they want. Just a little more torture and intimidation should do the trick!

It doesn’t help that soon Harry does get help from more than one questionable friend, including werewolves (who find Harry himself scary enough to whine about); a classic Chicago gangster or two; a rabbity, polka-loving (ooh, that’s scary) mortician; and a sweetly reasonable, just-ready-to-serve-you-master feminine demon. With friends like that, who needs to have the White Council show up? Only they do, of course, and Harry’s in still more trouble.

Jim Butcher (who looks just like a wizard himself, even to the long, dark locks) has written a fun series. It’s more classic gumshoe in tone than the Anita Blake series (and not, thank goodness, the soft-core porn Hamilton’s works have increasingly descended to). Harry’s still a guy who believes in right and wrong and in making the best choices he can in a gray world. I liked him. Enjoy, readers!

Copyright © 2006 by Danielle L. Parker

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