It’s almost Halloween in the Dresden Universe and that means that the barrier between the world of the dead and the world of the living is growing weaker. But surely that isn’t something that can cause a problem, right? Well, Harry gets a special delivery that proves otherwise and sends him down a dark path that won’t be so easy to step off of.
Since the events of Blood Rites, Thomas has been living with Harry and it’s going...not well. Harry arrives home to find his place a mess, and it’s Thomas’s fault. Turns out Thomas is not quite cut out for regular living. He can’t hold down a job because of his White Court nature (women keep throwing themselves at him). Harry is sympathetic, but something has to change. Harry’s particularly annoyed because Murphy is swinging by. Thomas tells Harry to just ask her out already, but Harry says it’s not like that.
Murphy does swing by to ask Harry if he’ll look after her plants. Turns out she’s going on vacation, and not alone either. Harry’s surprised when she says she’s going with Kincaid, whom she met in Blood Rites when he took off her pants. They’ve been seeing each other a bit, though Murphy says it isn’t serious. Harry worries for her safety, but she says she’ll be okay. She leaves and Harry is jealous.
He receives a package and inside are pictures of Murphy from the attack on the Black Court lair in Blood Rites. The pictures will implicate Murphy both in human courts and in the supernatural world. Also in the package is a lock of Murphy’s hair. And a note from Mavra. With the lock of hair, she could cast a spell on Murphy. She wants to meet Harry at his grave.
Harry goes, of course, with Mouse along for the ride. Mavra meets him and tells him to find the World of Kemmler. If he doesn’t, she’ll fuck things up for Murphy. Harry doesn’t have much of a choice. Which seems to be a recurring issue in his life.
Harry, as he is wont to do, hits up Bob for some answers. Before Bob makes with the exposition, though, he mentions that Harry has been afraid to use fire magic since he burned his hand. He won’t even use the spell that lights the candles in his lab. Harry asks about Kemmler, who Bob describes as an evil wizard. Actually, a super-evil necromancer who was also responsible for World War I. Harry realizes that for the morally gray Bob to describe him as evil, he must have been EVIL. Kemmler was hunted down by the White Council (all of them) and killed in 1961.
Harry also discovers that Kemmler once possessed Bob’s skull. Justin DuMorne was a Warden at Kemmler’s execution and retrieved Bob from the ashes of his lab. Bob explains that Kemmler made him do bad things and Bob was forced to close off his memories of that time. Harry commands Bob to remember and Bob explains that the Word of Kemmler contains the necromantic teachings of Kemmler. Then Bob goes all super-evil himself, almost killing Harry in the process. Harry is only able to survive because he tied Bob’s memories to their conversation. By ending the conversation, Bob returns to normal. Bob apologizes and Harry commands him to forget the memories for good. What’s clear in the end is that there seems to be a book out there containing Kemmler’s teachings and that it’s probably tied to Halloween, which is only a few days away.
Harry decides to look into any recent dead bodies since we are talking necromancy. He visits Waldo Butters, coroner and one-man polka band, last seen in Death Masks. Butters has been helping Harry with his injuries and has been looking into Harry’s accelerated wizard healing. His prognosis is that the burned hand may indeed recover. Harry is pleased. Harry doesn’t find any suspicious corpses, but he is interrupted by the arrival of the necromancer Grevane and his zombie servants. Grevane wants Butters, it seems, and almost gets him. Harry takes a moment to inform us that he’s been overcome with rage lately, tempted to give in to it and just destroy things. Still, he resists. Harry manages to get him away and to his apartment. Harry gives Butters a crash course in the supernatural, though Butters, a man of science, is having a hard time swallowing it all.
Leaving Butters in the warded apartment, Harry goes to investigate the book that Grevane was carrying, Die Lied der Erlking. It leads him to Bock Ordered Books, a rare books store near the university. Harry helpfully informs us that while the area around the store is dangerous, Billy and the other Alphas (werewolves, last seen in Summer Knight) have been patrolling the university grounds and keeping them safe. In the bookstore, Harry meets a woman named Sheila there who helps him find a copy of the book. Only as Harry tries to leave, he is attacked by the wizard Cowl and his servant, Kumori who want the book.
Harry recognizes both of them, covered head to toe in black robes, as figures that he saw back in Grave Peril at Bianca’s masquerade party. They gave Lea an athame. That is, they don’t attack at first. They actually plead with Harry, asking for him to hand over the book peacefully. Cowl claims not to be a Kemmlerite. They also imply that the White Council isn’t all that good. Harry is familiar with distrusting the White Council, but isn’t willing to give them the book and so they fight. Harry throws everything he has at them, but Cowl is a powerful wizard. Harry drops a car on him using his hellfire, but that still doesn’t stop Cowl. In the end, only the arrival of Billy and the Alphas sends Cowl and Kumori packing. Harry is less than gracious considering the wolves helped him out, but he goes back to Billy and Georgia’s place for a bit.
There, Harry eavesdrops on a conversation between Billy and Georgia. They’re worried about Harry—he seems so filled with rage. Georgia thinks that Harry’s grown so powerful that maybe they’re just in the way. Harry emerges and tells them his own worries, filling them in on everything about Lasciel and the hellfire. It’s a moment of maturity, Harry opening up. They return to pick up the Blue Beetle, but the windows have been smashed in, a message, Harry thinks. Billy and Georgia loan him their SUV and Harry goes to see Mortimer Lindquist, the ectomancer we met in Death Masks. He can speak to ghosts and Harry wants some info from them. They’re all stirred up and frightened because of the presence of necromancers. Mort doesn’t want to help because he wants to protect the ghosts, but Harry tells him that it’s to save Murphy’s life. Mort knows the ghost of Murphy’s father, and agrees to help Harry because of that. He uses his powers and the ghosts help pinpoint on a map six locations of necromancer activity.
Harry returns home to find a very emo Thomas. Harry falls asleep and is visited by his dead father who says he could only now cross over because someone else had moved first (I have a theory on this—more later). Harry admits how lost and afraid he is and his father tells him to rely on his choices. Then he goes for a run with Thomas where he fills him in on everything that’s been going on. For someone who’s not supposed to involve others, Harry has already told Billy, Georgia and Thomas. But on the other hand, he’s relying on his friends and family, and that’s a good thing. Thomas also shares with Harry—shares with him the frustration of not being able to really feed.
After that sharing and caring, Harry decides to go check out the locations on Mort’s map. The first one turns up nothing; the second is the Field museum, which Harry gives us a quick description of, including his appreciation for Sue, the museum’s T-Rex skeleton (actually real bones). Harry arrives to hear two cops talking about the murder of a Dr. Bartlesby, a traveling professor who was studying a Native America exhibit. Harry investigates and runs into Henry Rawlins, a beat cop who knew Murphy’s dad (that’s the second reference to Murphy’s dad in the book). He helps Harry out, telling him that Bartlesby’s assistants are missing. Rawlins also mentions that he knows of no crime scenes at the Forensic Institute.
Harry fetches Butters and they visit the Forensic Institute where Butters gets a look at Bartlesby’s corpse. Harry guesses that because of the gruesome condition of the body that it was a ritual death. While Butters is working, Harry sees Dr. Bartlesby’s two assistants come in. He pegs one, Li Xian, as a ghoul and the other, Alicia Nelson, whom Li calls “Lord.” Harry goes to grab Butters and pull him out and sees a “weird” corpse that might have been what Grevane was after. Turns out the corpse is Bony Tony, a smuggler for Gentleman Johnny Marcone (last seen in Death Masks). In the body, in a condom, is a flash drive.
Harry warns Butters to keep the drive away from him because his wizard mojo might fry it. He guesses that this was what Grevane was after, but he couldn’t touch it for fear of doing the same himself. Harry takes Butters to Georgia and Billy’s and they load the drive saying that it’s only 16 numbers. Harry also gets a message from Sheila, the girl from the bookstore, asking to see him. And a message from Murphy, who is apparently well and probably getting up to something with Kincaid. Something sexy.
Harry goes to Bock Ordered Books where Artemis Bock, proprietor, tells him he doesn’t want him coming around any more. Harry attracts trouble and Bock can’t afford it. Harry talks to Sheila, who thinks that someone was in the store with her. Then she asks Harry out on a date. Perhaps influenced by Murphy’s call, Harry says yes. Before he leaves, though, he sees Alicia Nelson and Li Xian threatening Bock unless he tells them who he sold the last copy of Die Lied der Erlking. Bock refuses, not knowing who he’s facing. Harry, using magic, attacks, sending Li through the door and facing off against Alicia.
Harry soon realizes that she’s more powerful than him. She calls herself Capiocorpus or Corpsetaker. Her magic reeks of emptiness. Harry bluffs her that he has the Word of Kemmler and when she tries to read his mind he calls up the power of the hellfire. Then he runs, but Li, the ghoul, throws a shuriken in his leg and Corpsetaker takes control over him, pulling the information about the numbers from his mind. Before Li Xian can eat him, though, Ms. Gard, Johnny Marcone’s head of security, attacks him with an axe. She pulls Harry aboard a helicopter where Johnny Marcone is waiting. He offers Harry some information, that one of his men threw down with a necromancer and he knows the names of the EMTs who went to the scene. After getting his leg fixed up, Harry talks to one of the EMTs who tells him that Marcone’s man was going to die, but someone matching the description of Kumori apparently saved the man’s life.
Harry returns home and discusses things with Thomas. He explains that the Erlking book mostly talks about the Erlking, a very powerful wyldfae (not aligned with the Summer or Winter courts) with power to rival the Faerie queens. But Harry doesn’t know what the Kemmlerites want with it. Harry hands over the numbers to Thomas and goes to summon up Lea. Only Lea doesn’t show up—Queen Mab does. She tells Harry that she has bound Lea for some challenge to her power. She also tells Harry that the Erlking, in addition to being the ruler of goblins, has power over fallen hunters. That he calls up powerful shades or ghosts for his Wild Hunt. The Kemmlerites, with the World of Kemmler, could devour those shades and draw power from them. On Halloween it would make them virtually into gods. Mab also repeats her offer to Harry for him to become the Winter Knight. Harry politely declines. As Harry returns home, Grevane’s zombies attack.
Harry has wards around his apartment, of course, but Grevane keeps sending zombies against them and they will soon wear down. Thomas urges Harry to use some fire, but Harry isn’t ready for that. They decide to run for it. Butters is scared, but Harry tries to get some fight in him by giving him his own slogan, “Polka will never die!” But before they can make a break, the zombies burst into Harry’s window and take Butters. Harry saves Butters by making a deal. He’ll give Grevane the numbers from the flash drive if he gets Butters. Grevane agrees and sends his second, who Harry calls Liver Spots, with Harry. But before they can go, Corpsetaker and Li Xian attack with some summoned ghosts. Harry, Thomas, Butters and Mouse get away, but Liver Spots has gotten away with the numbers.
They go to rest and recover at Murphy’s house (Harry has the key to look after her plants). Harry sleeps and dreams of a hot tub. And Lasciel. She offers Harry power, and though he’s tempted, he refuses. In the morning, he decides two things—he has to summon the Erlking himself (difficult because he no longer has the book that has the incantation in it) and he has to call in the White Council. He doesn’t want to harm Murphy, but she wouldn’t want innocents to die and that’s in the cards. He leaves Thomas and Butters to work out the numbers and heads out to talk to Sheila, who has a photographic memory. Billy catches him at his office first, though. He says Artemis Bock sent him to thank Harry. But they’re both worried about our favorite wizard. Seems like he’s acting really weird. Harry promises to talk more about it later, then heads out.
He meets Sheila at her apartment where she’s preparing to go out to a Halloween party. Harry’s clearly attracted to her. She is able to recall the poems from the book and Harry takes down the summoning spell. Then she kisses Harry, telling him she’d like to do it again. Harry leaves, feeling good, until he runs into Kumori waiting for him on the street.
They do not fight. They agree to a truce and Kumori mentions that she is looking for Harry’s copy of the book. Harry mentions that he doesn’t have it. He also offers Kumori the chance to walk away. She refuses. She says she studies necromancy in the effort to end Death itself. But Harry has seen the things necessary to bring that about and he doesn’t think it’s worth it. So they part.
Harry goes to pick up ingredients for the summoning ritual, then heads to McAnally’s to meet with the Wardens. Donald Morgan is there, of course, the Warden who is constantly riding Harry’s ass (last seen in Summer Knight) as well as Wardens Luccio, Ramirez, Kowalski and Yoshimo. There, Luccio offers Harry the grey cloak of the Wardens.
Harry laughs but the others fill him in on the latest on the war with the Red Court. In one action they wiped out 38 Wardens, 20% of the total force. They also pursued the wizards into the Nevernever AND called on the help of Outsiders, powerful, scary demons. But only wizards could summon them, so Harry realizes there are traitors in the White Council. But it gets worse. The Red Court attacked their wounded and killed many of the remaining Wardens. Luccio needs Harry to take up the grey cloak. Only Harry has been persecuted by the Wardens for most of his wizard life. He doesn’t want to join them. Luccio convinces him by telling him that his example will help redeem him in the eyes of the Council. And that he would only need to do what he mostly does on his own anyway. She appoints him regional commander of Chicago and he accepts.
Harry returns to Murphy’s where Thomas, Bob, and Butters are hanging. Harry fills them in on his be-Wardening. They’ve made no headway on the numbers but they have linked the Native American exhibit to the ritual—the spirits of hunters could be attracted to their relics. Harry resolves to summon the Erlking and trap him in a magical circle to prevent the Kemmlerites’ plans. Of course this will make Harry a target, but he’s focused on the immediate danger. He gives Thomas a message to take to the Wardens, then leaves Butters and Bob behind to go perform the ritual.
Harry succeeds in summoning the Erlking, and succeeds in trapping him. The Erlking is understandably pissed, but Harry’s circle holds. Until someone whacks him in the head. The Erlking and his Wild Hunt leaps free and Cowl presses Harry’s own gun to his head.
But Cowl doesn’t kill Harry. He intends to see this through to its end and be the one, rather than Corpsetaker or Grevane, to claim the power. As Harry is held at gunpoint, he sees Kumori exit Murphy’s house and together she and Cowl vanish into the Nevernever. Harry rushes into the house to check on Butters and Mouse and finds them in a closet, safe. He guesses that it was probably Mouse, smarter than the average dog, who saved Butters. He also realizes that Kumori wasn’t after them—she was after Bob. And she got him. Now they have access to the spirit who helped Kemmler write the Word of Kemmler.
He takes Butters and Mouse and goes to check on Sheila. He fears for her safety. But while he’s talking to her, Mouse and Butters appear and Butters seems confused. Harry looks around him with the Sight and realizes the apartment is empty. Holy Tyler Durden. Sheila is really Lasciel and she’s been manipulating him from inside his mind. She offers him help, offers him power, and shows how easy it would be for her to kill him, but he contains her and realizes why Artemis Bock and Billy thought he was acting so strangely.
Harry goes mobile with Butters and they figure out the the numbers are GPS coordinates, the kind of thing that would keep a wizard from finding it. Using a magic circle, Butters helps Harry track it to the Field Museum.
Inside the Field Museum he finds the Word of Kemmler taped into the inside of the skull of Sue the T-Rex (the exhibit uses an artificial skull). Harry senses necromantic energy, though, and so tells Butters to get to safety while he flips through the Word, trying to speed-read it. Grevane appears and Harry threatens to burn the Word, but he is covered in a multitude of snakes and Grevane grabs the Word and flips to a relevant passage. Satisfied, he walks away, leaving Harry to his second, Liver Spots, who Harry now recognizes. He’s Quintus Cassius , the former Snakeboy Denarian from Death Masks. He has a baseball bat and remembers Harry’s abuse of him with the same (which is also the message he left when smashing the Blue Beetle) and he snaps manacles around Harry’s hands.
The manacles prevent Harry from using his magic. And Liver Spots/Cassius tells Harry just what he wants. He lost his coin, and now wants Lasciel’s coin. Only Harry doesn’t have it. Cassius doesn’t take this on faith, though. He tortures Harry, beating him, cutting into him. Then Butters and Mouse appear, attacking and pulling Cassius away from Harry. In the end, Mouse gets on top of Cassius, gripping his neck in his teeth. Harry orders Mouse to kill Cassius, but Cassius uses his death curse on Harry, telling him to “DIE ALONE.”
Harry blacks out and awakens inside his own mind along with a shackled Lasciel and a dark version of himself (which we’ve seen before) who is focused on survival and the basic needs of human life. Dark Harry urges Harry to free Lasciel and use her power. Harry throws up all the problems with that choice—how she’ll take root and be difficult to defend against. Better, Harry thinks, to die without giving in. Of course Dark Harry brings up all the innocents who will die as a result. Their deaths are practically guaranteed. Harry falling to Lasciel isn’t. Harry is swayed and frees Lasciel, asking her to give him the information in the Word (which he scanned).
He comes back to Butters and Mouse, with the knowledge that Cowl is going to use a vortex of necromantic energy. Which will draw his attention and power. Harry intends to strike while he’s occupied. But to enter it, Harry needs to be wielding necromantic energy soon. Which requires a drum. He tells Butters to grab his polka drum. It also requires a reanimated corpse. Only doing that to a human corpse will break the Laws of Magic. So Harry decides not to use it on a human. Instead he uses it on Sue the T-Rex.
Harry animates the skeleton of Sue and rides it toward the vortex. And soon comes into contact with the Wardens fighting off zombies in the streets of Chicago on Halloween. He joins in, using the dinosaur skeleton to chomp on zombies and the Li Xian ghoul as well. He also sees Corpsetaker take on Luccio and sees Luccio deal a finishing blow to Corpsetaker. But Harry realizes as Luccio walks away that it’s really Corpsetaker who has gained control of Luccio’s body. He shoots her, taking her by surprise, but Morgan witnesses the act and mistakes it for the real Luccio.
Morgan faces off against Harry and despite Harry’s protests, he’s too willing to believe that Harry is a traitor. Harry realizes that Morgan doesn’t have a personal vendetta against him, just that he’s a worn out cop. He hates all the bad guys. And Harry can’t take him out knowing that. He’s prepared to let Morgan take him out when Ramirez shoots Morgan and Luccio, now in the body that the Corpsetaker had previously occupied, talks him down.
Harry takes Sue along for the ride after the necromancers with Ramirez. They fight zombies and Ramirez takes out Grevane with his sword. But then Cowl appears, blasting Ramirez away and Kumori holds a knife to Dresden’s throat.
Cowl is now in control of the vortex of spirits, and Harry is out of the picture. Cowl removes Bob the Skull and Bob urges Cowl to kill Harry. But Cowl refuses. Harry reaches out to Bob and tries to rekindle the Bob he knows and, for a second, he sees his Bob back, but then he seems to disappear. Cowl is almost triumphant, but then Sue appears, possessed by Bob, and takes out Kumori. This frees Harry to strike Cowl with his staff and disrupt the ritual.
Harry awakes to find Bob back in his skull and the bad guys all beaten. The Erlking appears and says he won’t attack Harry in his weakened state but that next time, he’ll go after Harry in earnest. In the aftermath Harry guesses that the necromancers had a deal with the Red Court to time their attacks for the same time. Harry meets with Mavra at his grave to give her the Word of Kemmler and tell her that if she tries this again he will go after her and kill her. And with all the power at his command, with all the people lobbying to give him more, he has conviction. Mavra agrees. After she leaves, the ghost of his father appears. Harry is worrying about Liver Spots’ curse—“Die Alone.” Harry’s dad tells him that everyone dies alone, but how he lives before and after death is different. Later, Morgan appears, now taking Luccio’s place as head of the Wardens, to tell Harry he won’t have any Wardens under him, but that he keeps his job and they seem to have an understanding. In the end, Butters brings Harry a guitar to help Harry with his understanding, and Harry realizes that he’s starting to heal.
Trouble in the Council: Harry guesses that the reason that Cowl and Kumori are continuously robed and hooded is that they’re members of the White Council. Additionally, there seem to be traitors in the Council and they seem to be working with the Red Court against the Senior Council. This can’t be good at all.
The War: Dead Beat continues the war with the Red Court but here we start to see the increasing body count. Ebenezar dropped a satellite on them, but this time they’re targeting members of the Council in great numbers. Many Wardens have been killed so that they’re forced to draft Harry. And now Harry is a Warden, with all the responsibilities that that entails. Harry started out as the rebel; now he’s the cop.
Lasciel: We knew that Lasciel would appear at some point, especially after her mark appeared on Harry’s burned hand. But now we see some echo of her appears in Harry’s mind. And that she can control his perceptions to a degree, make him think that someone is there when they aren’t, make him see his surroundings differently. Harry resists her for as long as he can, but he accepts her power when he needs it to save innocents. Whether he can control it, whether he can keep Lasciel contained, remains to be seen. But as Harry says, people are always willing to give him extra power, and it’s for good reasons that he accepts. Harry has always stood at the edge of a dark road—here we see him taking steps down it. And as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The Wardens: Corpsetaker switched bodies with Captain Luccio and Harry killed her original body. Now Luccio is stuck in the body of Alicia Nelson. As such, she steps down as the leader of the Wardens and is replaced by Donald Morgan. Harry gets to stay on as a Warden, ostensibly with a better understanding with Morgan, but whether this will continue remains to be seen as well.
The Death Curse: Liver Spots/Cassius’ “death curse”, if that’s what it was, was leveled at Harry. As Harry’s dad says, everyone dies alone, but will this have reverberations for Harry in the future? Will we see his death any time soon? We’ll just need to stick with the series to find out.
Relationships: Murphy sits this novel out, but Harry opens up to Billy and Georgia, and also to Thomas. He also has a moment with his father. As mentioned upstream, I have a theory on why Harry’s father can suddenly now talk to him. He says that someone else had to move first. I think Lasciel contacting Harry, through Sheila, allowed him to come through as well. But his appearance helps give Harry strength. Harry may die alone, but he is starting to realize the value of the people around him and realizing that they care for him.
I enjoyed Dead Beat, and enjoy Harry dealing with temptation. I also enjoyed seeing Harry opening up more and being more mature. What did you like best about Dead Beat? How awesome was Sue the dinosaur?
Also, next up, another dubious setting— a horror movie convention. And Warden business. And young love. What is a wizard to do?