Page Turners

Dead Beat: Necromancers Are Never a Good Sign



I love Halloween. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, and I tend to go a tad over-board here on Puzzled Pagan Presents when it becomes the most wonderful time of the year. That usually takes the form of several Marvel Madness, Film Library, Reel Talk, and Page Turners articles that specifically revel in the aesthetic of All Hallow’s Eve. And, I’ve got a lot planned for October. So, I decided to spend September reading some books that didn’t quite deal with macabre topics, keeping it from being two solid months of Halloween content. And, in that mindset, I decided to do something I haven’t done in a shockingly long amount of time. Pick up another installment in the wonderful Dresden Files series! I’ve written about four previous books that follow the exploits of wizard/detective Harry Dresden here on the site, and it’s become sort of a comfort-food book series for me. It’s nice to just pick up one of Harry’s adventures, enjoying the oddly perfect combination of fantasy lore and noir detective fiction that this series provides. And, lo and behold, I picked up the next novel in the series, Dead Beat, and immediately realized that it takes place on Halloween. So, screw it. I tried to remain somewhat professional and keep all my Halloween love confined to one month, but the gods apparently have different plans in mind, and I’m just going to lean into it. So, to kick off my apparent two months of Halloween goodness, let’s talk about how Harry Dresden got to ride a zombified dinosaur.

Dead Beat picks up some time after the events of the last novel, Blood Rites, with Harry Dresden trying to keep the shambles of his life together. He’s currently living with his half-brother, a succubus named Thomas, and trying to make a living as Chicago’s premiere occult detective while also participating in a brutal war between a society of vampires and the council of wizards that he’s a begrudging member of. And, at the beginning of this story, Harry is summoned to meet with a powerful vampire called Mavra who has a proposition for Harry. She’s become interested in a long-lost book written by an infamous necromancer named Kemmler. She wants the book, and the secrets inside, and hires Harry to track it down in exchange for her silence in regards to the actions of Harry’s best friend Karrin Murphy who has been getting involved with the war. Harry agrees to the terms, primarily because of some burgeoning feelings toward Murphy, and sets out to find this mythical volume. And, as luck would have it, he does have a pretty solid lead, because it turns out that the spirit that serves as his magical Wikipedia, Bob, used to perform the same deeds for Kemmler. So, Harry starts tracking down Kemmler’s book, and quickly realizes two things. First, Halloween night is very important for whatever’s in the book, and second, he’s not the only one looking for the book. Kemmler actually had a series of disciples, all of whom have shown up in Chicago to try and steal the book themselves and bring about an apocalyptic event.

Harry encounters the three disciples of Kemmler, the smug Grevane, the secretive Cowl, and the body-swapping Corpsetaker. Harry travels all around the city, doing his best to track down Kemmler’s book, as well as an ancient tome that tells stories about a powerful mystical being known as the Erlking. With the help of a self-conscious coroner named Waldo Butters Harry eventually learns the full extent of the plan. Kemmler’s book details a technique to draw in the souls of the dead to turn oneself into a god, and the book of the Erlking lays out a way to summon a massive amount of dead spirits on Halloween knight by summoning the Erlking himself and his hordes of damned hunters. So, the necromancers are going to summon the Erlking, and drain the souls of his captured spirits, turning themselves into nigh unstoppable gods. And, to add some complexity, Harry realizes that his mind is being compromised by the power of a Fallen Angel that he was bonded to a few books ago, and she’s gaining some ground, making him concerned that the more he uses his powers the more likely he’ll lose control of his own mind and body. But, Harry is nothing but a consummate professional, so he gets to work stopping his necromancer foes, bringing in some magical knights to help him fight the necromancers, and some surprise help from Waldo Butters. And, after engaging in some necromancy himself and bringing a Tyrannosaurus Rex from a museum to life as backup, Harry is able to do battle with the necromancers and save Chicago from utter annihilation yet again.

I love the Dresden Files. As someone has at various points in his life has been a massive fan of both fantasy and noir, this series is a wonderful gift. It’s a perfect synthesis that probably shouldn’t work, and ends up being narrative chocolate and peanut butter, giving me something that’s probably a little too rich, but that I just can’t get enough of. Harry’s a really fun character, and the world that author Jim Butcher has been building over the course of this series that been a very rewarding one. And this book falls in line with the rest of the series. It continues working on the larger over-arching plot of the vampire/wizard war, it gives us further development in strange role of Laschiel the Fallen Angel, we deepen the relationship Harry has with several of his supporting characters, and it’s generally just a rollicking good time. Really, the only thing that I felt kind of disappointed about this novel was the fact that it leaned too far into the over-arching plot. The thing that initially drew me into the world of Harry Dresden was the fact that it was equal parts fantasy and noir. Harry worked as a detective, in an office, and people arrived and hired him to do something that felt like something Philip Marlowe would look into, just with a magical bend. And, slowly but surely, this series has started to leave that by the wayside. It’s gotten much more interested in the over-arching plot, and left behind the somewhat procedural nature of the series, which used to be my favorite part. It’s obviously personal preference, and there’s literally eight other novels in this series, so things may have completely changed and I just sound like a weirdo. I still love this series, and I really had a fantastic time with this novel, I just kind of wish things could throttle down a bit and get back to a less high-stakes mode.


Dead Beat was written by Jim Butcher and published by  Roc, 2005.


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