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Dead Beat: A Novel of the Dresden Files

by Jim Butcher

(Orbit, £6.99, 498 pages, paperback, published 1 June 2006.)

Review by Martin Owton

cover scanDead Beat is the seventh book in Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. Harry Dresden is the only professional wizard in the Chicago phonebook and he assists the Chicago Police with their stranger cases; that keeps him pretty busy.

The story begins with Harry being blackmailed by a powerful vampire who holds incriminating evidence that would destroy the career of a close friend. The vampire wants Harry to find The Word of Kemmler, but first Harry has to find out what that is. The answer very quickly becomes clear; The Word of Kemmler is something that a lot of people want. A lot of powerful, ruthless and determined people. Within a very short time Harry is up to his ears in scary bad guys and all hell is quite literally breaking loose all over Chicago.

So we're in the twilight zone where fantasy meets detective noir; Harry Potter all grown up and hanging out with Dashiell Hammett? Yeah, pretty much, and it's fun. Jim Butcher keeps the plot rolling along at a cracking pace and you're never too far away from the next bit of action. There was one point about a third of the way through when yet another bunch of overwhelmingly powerful necromancers showed up, and I thought that there were just too many bad guys. But I should have trusted Jim; he always had it under control. Pretty soon Harry Dresden is rolling up the bad guys with the help of associated wizards, werewolves, a polka-loving medical examiner and an amorous fallen angel. And the denouement -- over the top hardly begins to describe it.

I had not previously read any of the Harry Dresden books and, while I probably missed some nuances of plot and character, it did not really matter; enough of the backstory is filled in without disrupting the flow. This has been a very successful series and it's easy to see why. Jim Butcher's style is direct and fluent and his characters engaging, the plot is complex but navigated with an enviable sureness of touch. I will read more.

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