Dead Beat - Jim Butcher

~~Moved from GR~~

Dead Beat (The Dresden Files #7)

by Jim Butcher


Dead Beat is one of my favourite books in the series. Besides having a title that is not just a pun, but a double or possibly triple pun, it is a return to the series' action-packed, adrenaline-filled noir roots. With Butcher's improved skills in characterization, I think Dead Beat is a great book to read if you just want to try a single book from the series; it is is exuberant, fast-paced, satisfying, and with just enough cynicism to keep it in the genre.

It's nearly Halloween, and as always, that means Chicago is about to get spooky. Harry is still recovering from the changes engendered in the last few books: he's now got his oft-unemployed, half-vampire brother as a roommate, a huge dog who seems unwilling to stop growing, a (literal) handicap, and a brand new set of worries and concerns. In the last book, Harry practically melted his hand off during an attack on a scourge of vampires. Although crippled and depressed about it, that isn't Harry's biggest concern. Inside the burned flesh of his palm, there is a tiny unburned patch in the shape of the sigil of the fallen angel that Harry encountered in a previous book. Combined with his inadvertent use of hellfire, Harry finally(!) realizes that the fallen angel might be exerting influence over him. (The reader, of course, realized this rather sooner, since Harry's bouts of fury took on a disturbing amount of malicious enjoyment right after his encounter with the fallen.) But most troubling of all, Harry has discovered he has feelings for Lt. Karrin Murphy--just in time to say goodbye to her as she heads out on a vacation to Hawaii with another man. Oops.

But then things start getting complicated. An old foe blackmails Harry into assisting her to find a terrifyingly powerful dark magical object, and he's not the only one after it. A bunch of highly skilled necromancers are in town after the same object. Harry employs his typical investigation methodology: poke around blindly, annoy everyone possible, and hope to force a reaction. In this case, however, he's irritating a bunch of necromancers, so his interference tends to ensue in frolics with zombies, ghosts, and ghouls. To make matters worse, Harry's skeptical, vanilla-mortal, and cowardly friend, Waldo Butters, has somehow become a target.

In Butcher's standard style, Dresden is catapulted from action scene to action scene, often with his terrified polka-playing friend Butters tagging along. Help from Harry's college werewolf buddies and interactions with the harsh justice of the White Council of Wizardry just adds to the fun. Morgan, the fanatical wizard enforcer who is definitely channeling the spirit of Javert from Les Mis, also gets some fun and character-deepening scenes. Not only that, but it turns of faerie politics are also in play, and we get to meet the Erlking, goblin king and lord of the wild hunt. It all culminates into one of the absolute most awesome action scenes in the entire series.
(It involves a fossilized dinosaur. No more need be said.)

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For once, I don't really have many complaints about female roles, objectification of women, way too explicit "romance" scenes, etc, mainly because there are basically no women in the book. With Butters playing weakling companion, Thomas playing assist, and Billy the Werewolf as timely sidekick, the cast of protagonists is almost entirely masculine. (There are three female-ish villains, but one is a long-dead vampire, one is an apparently originally male body-snatcher, and one never takes off her(?) cloak, so I'm leaving them out of the equation.) The only major female cast member is Sheila, a librarian at a local bookstore. Sheila herself looks and acts a lot like the bookstore clerk in the old Bogart version of the Big Sleep--the type who flirts furiously with the PI and is "sexy" when she takes her glasses off. She proceeds to take on one of the traditional noir female roles; you need to read the book to discover whether she plays damsel in distress, plucky sidekick, femme fatale, or a combination of the three.

[I hate the gooey scenes between Sheila and Harry, but there was one fantastic, redeeming feature: everything "Sheila" says is taken almost verbatim from a comment Harry makes in this book or in a previous book. In their hottub conversation, Lasciel exhibits an inability to understand Harry's morality, so it makes perfect sense that she would just start parroting his beliefs when trying to be human.]

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One thing that did bother me was a the slurs and jokes against homosexuals; plus, once again, the cast is relentlessly heterosexual and overwhelmingly white, with one short bit part for a rather stereotyped (but likeable) African-American policeman.  However, at least I didn't have to cringe through a scene with Listens-to-Wind, so....yeah.

One of the things that stood out for me in this book was the increased complexity of some of the villains. Harry is up against four sets of baddies: his vampire nemesis Mavra, the creepy fedora-wearing Grevane, the body-swapping Corpsetaker, and the enigmatic Cowl. The first three of the four are the standard ha-ha-evil-for-the-sake-of-evil-power baddies, but Cowl and his faithful sidekick Kumori are a little different. Cowl starts out by seeking the power to prevent the other "madmen" from taking it, but as events unfurl, it becomes clearer and clearer that he has been seduced by the potential power he could gain. Still, an antagonist who isn't just "evul-4-te-gigglz" is a pleasant change.

Additionally, Harry's motives are much more mixed than they are in previous books. Yes, he wants to save Chicago, but his own actions are twisted by his desire to save Murphy and himself from Mavra's blackmail attempts. He is also forced to consider to what lengths he might go to achieve his goals. Troubled over his discovery in the last book of his mentor's hypocrisy, Harry begins to actually think about the consequences of his actions. There are several great moments when Harry realizes that he is making almost identical statements to the excuses used by the antagonists. Both Cowl and Morgan act as great foils for Harry as he considers where he wants to fall on the antihero scale.

Overall, a very fun book, with colorful, creative, unique characters, and one of the most awesome climaxes in the series. Chock-full of zombies, ninja ghouls, faerie deities, college werewolves, sword-swinging vampires, dinosaurs, one-man polka bands, and more, this is definitely an entertaining read, and one of my favourite in the series.



Other Reviews

Believe it or not, I've written a review of every single book in the series. I may have addiction issues. Links to the complete set are below. The starred ones are my faves.

[#1] Storm Front    [#2] Fool Moon    [#3] Grave Peril    [#4] Summer Knight*    [#5] Death Masks    [#6] Blood Rites    [#7] Dead Beat*    [#8] Proven Guilty    [#9] White Night    [#10] Small Favor*    [#11] Turn Coat    [#12] Changes    [#13] Ghost Story*    [#14] Cold Days