Sunday, September 23, 2001

Review: "Grave Peril" by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard-for-hire, is back on the case in Jim Butcher's newest novel "Grave Peril" (Roc).

This time, something has all the ghosts in the city stirred up, and Harry and his sidekick Michael, a sword-wielding warrior for God, have their hands full trying to set things right.

Matters are complicated by the arrival of a young girl at Dresden's office who calls herself Lydia and claims that she's being hunted by a Nightmare. Harry, like the film noir private eyes that much of his character is based on, can't resist a damsel in distress. He puts her under his protection, and that's when things start to go very wrong.

As Harry investigates the Nightmare and the forces behind it, he discovers that it's personal. He uncovers an elaborate revenge plot against him, but who is behind it? Harry's made his share of supernatural enemies, and any one of them could be the culprit.

If it all sounds a bit absurd, well, it really is. But it's meant to be. Like its predecessors "Storm Front" and "Fool Moon," this book is a fun romp through the supernatural.

Harry Dresden has the attitude of a hard-boiled detective and dresses like a character from a Clint Eastwood Western. Instead of a six-shooter or a snub-nosed revolver, he guns down his enemies - all sorts of nasties from vampires to werewolves to ghosts - with a blasting rod or a quickly-scribbled spell circle.

His sidekick Michael wields a blessed sword, a gift from God. He's stalwart in his service to God and devoted to protecting the innocent. He's also not very happy with Harry's chosen profession, and takes every opportunity to try to convert him. But despite their differences - and the objections of Michael's wife - the pair work well together.

Throw in Harry's tabloid-reporter girlfriend who is always after the supernatural scoop and a police investigations unit that calls on Harry for his help but doesn't really believe in his powers, and you have the chaotic backdrop for an entertaining circus sideshow. And that's just what Butcher delivers.

"Grave Peril," and the "Dresden Files" in general, is a fast-paced mix of fantasy, horror and hard-boiled detective novel that's just as addictive as it is entertaining.

The third installment of the "Dresden Files" shows Butcher getting better and better. I can hardly wait for the next time Harry Dresden gets called to action.

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