Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

(2008-08-15)

  

Dead Beat: Book Seven of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

 Published June 2006 (UK), by Orbit UK, US 2005.

ISBN: 1841494038

498 pages.

 

Review by Mark Yon/Hobbit

 

Please note: I last reviewed Harry Dresden in January 2008 with Blood Rites.

 

For the record, please read the ever-lengthening list of other reviews first:

 

Book One (Storm Front) review here; http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/219.html,

Book Two (Fool Moon) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/232.html

Book Three (Grave Peril) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/243.html,

Book Four, (Summer Knight) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/281.html),

Book Five, (Death Masks) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/416.html ) and

Book Six, (Blood Rites) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/419.html ) as there are spoilers here.

 

To the task, then. Book 7 takes place about a year after the life-changing events of Book 6.

 

At the beginning of the book the set up is as follows: Harry is duelling-wand-less and crippled after his troubles with Mavra in Blood Rites. His recently discovered incubus half-brother Thomas is now living with Harry after being exiled from the Raith family, the puppy Mouse first met in Book Six is now a BIG dog.

 

The MacGuffin this time is The Word of Kemmler, Kemmler being a rather nasty necromancer who was killed by the Wizard’s Court years ago for doing unspeakable things. Harry is told by Mavra that if his friend police chief Karrin is to live, or at least avoid being dismissed from the force by incriminating evidence about their shenanigans in Blood Rites, then he has to find the Word of Kemmler and bring it to her by Halloween in three days time.

 

An attack on Harry’s friend, the Medical Examiner Waldo Butters, leads to the revelation that Waldo, and ultimately Harry, are being hunted by a number of enemies, such as six necromancers who clearly have designs on The Word of Kemmler and will stop at nothing, etc etc.

 

 So far, so good. Suffice it to say that you can probably work out, after six previous books, where this is going.

 

However, these books are not always about the resolution, but about the means, the journey to the destination. If Book Six was about families and relationships, then in short this one is about rebirth. Book Seven seems to be a renewal for Harry. In Book Six, Blood Rites, the line seems to have been drawn so that a fresh start to the series is required if the reader is to maintain interest. Certainly Harry himself feels different, and others notice a difference in him:

 

‘Harry,’ Georgia said, ‘I think you need to talk to someone. I don’t think it’s important who it is. But you have a lot of pressures on you, and if you don’t find some way to let them out, you’re going to hurt yourself.’ (page 114)

 

 

Dead Beat seems to be a low point for Harry, certainly at the beginning. This is a darker, more bitter Harry than usually seen. The wisecracks are there, but it’s clear he’s barely holding himself together at times. There are differences elsewhere too. Some scary revelations about Bob’s past life (if rather convenient) show that he’s not always been the character we’ve got to know and like in previous books.

 

However you can’t keep a good wizard down, and at the resolution Harry is stronger and wiser for his experiences.

 

As we’re still catching up here in the UK, Dead Beat was the first Dresden published in hardback in the US, such was the growing popularity of the series. This is, to a degree, reflected in the pace and tone of the book. After the rather personal events of Book 6 (which are also further addressed here), and a plot structure that was beginning to get a little repetitive, Book 7 seems to be back on form. This is a much more confidently written book than those previous, and a more complicated book than the previous ones, if not to mention bigger in weight!

 

 There are times, though, when this book’s bigger picture is almost its undoing. In places we have moments in this book when Jim almost seems to have overdone things by having thrown everything into the plot: towards the end we have vampires, werewolves, ghouls, Halloween goings-on, the White Council, the NeverNever (or at least some of its inhabitants) all being juggled simultaneously. It’s a little bit like those films with star guests in, who pop in for a scene or two and then disappear.

 

There are some appealing and surprising reappearances though. The recurrence of Johnnie Marcone is an interesting turn, and one which seems to have been overdue, but one which soon disappears without major development. Murphy is there too, but blink and you’ll pretty much miss her, though there are some interesting developments from Blood Rites. What actually was most disappointing was that the main MacGuffin by the end seems to almost be a footnote after all the other things have gone on. However I suspect things are not fully resolved there.

 

In summary, though, the series seems to have averted itself from the brink of showing signs of repetition and predictability, and kept itself going with a tour-de-force performance which broadens and deepens the Dresden experience. Best recommended after the earlier books, to get the full impact, this book shows that the series has life (or in the case of necromantic zombies, death) in it yet.  

 

In homage to my reviews of Books Five and Six, here’s the key themes in short: generally more continued goodness this time around. Less Karrin, increasingly complicated (yet briefer) personal life for Harry, less vampires, more zombies, more Wardens, more Nevernever, more BIG duels, and slightly more werewolves.

 

Onto Book Eight!

 

Mark Yon / Hobbit, July/August 2008.

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