Sunday, October 12, 2003

Review: "Death Masks" by Jim Butcher

Settling down with the latest installment of Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" is becoming a pre-Halloween tradition for me.

The tales of a wizard private eye are the perfect books for the haunted season. They've got plenty of creeps and nasties, but they're more fun than frightening. His latest, "Death Masks" ($6.99, Roc) continues the trend.

This time, Harry Dresden's in a world of trouble (as usual). The war between the Red Court of vampires and the White Council of wizards - a war that Harry was at least partially responsible for starting - continues. Harry is given a chance to end the war by fighting a duel with a representative of the Red Court, a cunning vampire named Ortega.

As he prepares for the duel, he gets a visit from a representative of the Vatican. The Shroud of Turin has been stolen and is suspected to be in Chicago. The priest has contacted the police, but doesn't trust them and has been pointed toward Harry. The problem is, a lot of other people are looking for the Shroud, including Harry's friend Michael Carpenter and two other Knights of the Cross, the local crime lord and some really nasty demons.

Could anything else go wrong? You bet it could. In the middle of all of this Harry's old girlfriend, now half-vampire, saunters back into his life.

As you can probably tell, this tale of Harry Dresden is far from boring, but it's not nearly as chaotic as it sounds either. Despite everything that's going on, Butcher still makes the story flow and manages to tie it all together.

But most importantly, the stories are a blast. Butcher doesn't mind poking fun at his own genre, even at a master of it. Consider a scene where Dresden is caught somewhere he shouldn't be - an art auction run by the local mob boss where Harry suspects the Shroud will be sold. The mob boss confronts him by saying he didn't realize Harry was an art collector. The rest of the conversation goes like this:

"`I am the foremost collector of velvet Elvii in the city of Chicago,' I said at once.

"`Elvii?' Marcone inquired.

"`The plural could be Elvises, I guess,' I said. `But if I say that too often, I start muttering to myself and calling things `my precious,' so I usually go with the Latin plural.'"

If that passage gives you a chuckle - or a good belly laugh if you're a Tolkien fan - there are plenty more where it came from.

With most ongoing series like this, I find my interest waning after four or five books, but five books in, I still love the "Dresden Files." They're fast, they're fun, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

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