Sunday, May 01, 2005

Review: "Dead Beat" by Jim Butcher

It's about time Harry Dresden appeared in hardcover.

"Dead Beat" ($23.95, Roc) is the seventh installment in Jim Butcher's series based on the wizard private eye, and the first in hardcover.

The book follows Butcher's hardcover debut late last year with "The Furies of Calderon" ($23.95, Ace), which introduced his high fantasy series "The Codex Alera." While that book was well-written and entertaining, it wasn't nearly as much fun as the Dresden books.

This time around, Harry finds himself in another pickle courtesy of the Black Court of the vampires - the old school, rotting flesh branch of the vampire world. Mavra, queen of the Black Court, has photos of Dresden and his partner, police detective Karrin Murphy, taking down a den of vamps (see the last Dresden book, "Blood Rites," for details). Since most of the world denies the existence of vampires, the release of those photos of a bloody, shotgun-wielding Murphy blowing away human-like creatures would mean pretty bad things for her.

Mavra presents the photos to Harry and says she'll release them unless he can bring her the "Word of Kemmler," a lost work by an evil necromancer. The problem for Harry - other than the power that Mavra could gain with the book, of course - is that several of Kemmler's disciples have arrived in town, also searching for the "Word." And there's an even bigger twist on the way for everyone's favorite wizard.

After seven books, most series start to get a little stale, but "Dead Beat" is just as much fun as the first installment of "The Dresden Files." The reason is that Butcher continues to find unique characters and twists that keep the story moving forward.

These books never pretend to be anything other than what they are, a fun adventure story loaded with magic and ghouls of all stripes. The action begins from the first page and doesn't let up for the next 387.

Butcher admits that what he calls the "swords and horses fantasy" of the "The Codex Alera" is his first love, and the second volume of that series is due out this summer. But here's hoping that he doesn't drop "The Dresden Files" any time soon. These books are far too much fun to be forgotten.

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