In Retro Review: Dead Beat

Entertaining to read, but the first entry in the series that's not a home run.

Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

Published by Roc, May 2006. Paperback of 518 pages at $9.99. 

The cover: Harry is in his trademark hat and cloak, his staff has been produced and its runes glow against the evening backdrop of Chicago. This is a great combination of urban blight and fantasy, rendered by Christian McGrath. He’s done several covers for Dresden’s adventures and this one captures the tone of the book and its title character flawlessly. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Paranormal investigations are Harry Dresden’s business, and Chicago is his beat as he tries to bring law and order to a world of wizards and monsters that exist alongside everyday life. And though most inhabitants of the Windy City don’t believe in magic, the Special Investigations department of the Chicago PD knows better. Karrin Murphy is the head of SI and Harry’s good friend. So when a killer vampire threatens to destroy Murphy’s reputation unless Harry does her bidding, he has no choice. The vampire wants the Word of Kemmier (whatever that is) and all the power that comes with it. Now Harry is in a race against time — and six merciless necromancers — to find the Word before Chicago experiences a Halloween night to wake the dead…” I like the idea of Harry having to work for a vampire, since he was the one that burned all bridges between them and his council of wizards and having necromancers involved suggests that zombies might be involved. I’ve loved all of Dresden’s previous books, so I’m eager for more. Overall grade: A

The characters: Harry Dresden is a detective. He’s also a wizard. He’s not as powerful as he wishes he was, Harry ends up helping others when he knows he shouldn’t and when he gets his mojo going he’s quite the butt kicker. He lives in a house with his cat Mister, his overgrown dog Mouse, and in the basement, where he keeps his lab — as he calls it — is Bob, a skull that contains all the wisdom he can’t get from books. Dresden, in the great tradition of hard boiled detectives, gets beaten up and abused by others, but nothing will deter him from a job or promise once he’s given it. His tone is verbally sarcastic (but fun), though internally he’s a mess, always wondering how he’s going to get out of his latest predicament. This is book seven in these adventures and he continues to grow in power and as a character. Half-brother Thomas Raith makes a few appearances in this outing, though often to warn Harry about the dangers he’s going to encounter and his choice of associates. Among his new associates is Waldo Butters, a medical examiner. He was a completely unenjoyable character and got tiresome quickly. He’s a coward, and Butcher beats into the ground how he’s unable to help Harry; this only served to make his change in character by the book’s end expected. He’s intended to provide humor, but I began to loathe him as much as Thomas did. Butters does contribute to the plot, but it got be a little too much when Harry couldn’t find a solution, yet Waldo says a few words that create a word relationship for Harry to come to the answer. Mavra the vampire is the source of the book’s conflict. Vampires have been Harry’s bane for several books, and when they appear very bad things happen. Once she brings trouble to Dresden’s doorstep, there are other villains — the necromancers — who provide the troubles for him in this book. They were a good collection of foes, with differing power levels and abilities. I enjoyed every character in this book, except Butters. Overall grade: B

The settings: Present day Chicago is the setting of this book that goes all around the city. A good chunk of the book takes place at Dresden’s place, which gets bashed in more than usual, and a famous institution is the closing location. I was glad to see that the Nevernever, the world of magic that’s in another dimension, isn’t visited in this book. I thought it’d been used too much in previous novels, so I was glad to see Butcher setting the action in the real world. Overall grade: A

The action: As Harry is trying to find out what the Word of Kemmler is he’s accosted by necromancers and their minions left and right. There’s a really cool siege of Harry’s home and the ending of the book goes mega-scale. However, the major supernatural element that Dresden creates to assist him in the climax was just too cheesy, even for a Dresden adventure. It provides plenty of opportunities for the characters to crack jokes in reference to an iconic film, but I’m suffering on overdose from this type of creature and it came off as really silly. Overall grade: B 

The conclusion: Butters and the supernatural creature hurt my liking of the climax. Their victories came off as really forced. I enjoyed the book more when they weren’t present. Overall grade: B-

The final line: Two characters killed my love of this book and it’s the first Dresden Files novel I read that I didn’t rave over once I was done. Entertaining to read, but the first entry in the series that’s not a home run. I began to read the novels because of Dynamite Comics’ stories (Yes, the cart did come before the horse in this regard) and I’ll continue to read both publishers’ works because I love Dresden so much. Overall grade: B

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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