When last we saw Harry Dresden, he was going through a number of, well, Changes. The last one pretty severe. In Ghost Story, the thirteenth book in The Dresden Files, Harry is forced to deal with one of the most severe of those changes, one which essentially makes him start all over again.
To be more specific, when last we saw Harry, he appeared to be dead. And saw a light at the end of a tunnel. And a train barreling down at him. We pick up right there, with Harry understandably peeved about that being his reward. He stares at the train until someone pulls him out of its way. Someone who looks a lot like Sergeant Ron Carmichael, Murphy’s former partner, who died in Fool Moon. Carmichael takes Harry out to a city that looks like Chicago but isn’t (it’s Between, Carmichael says) and they get into a Mustang.
Carmichael takes Harry to “the office” and urges Harry to get inside. There are Things about, it seems. They step into a building where Harry sees a man dressed as a beat cop dressed in all white. Harry uses his Sight and the man’s revolver turns into a sword. The man stops Harry’s Sight instantly, telling Harry he might hurt himself. Harry notices the name tag which says “Amitiel.” An angel.
Carmichael takes Harry to see the Captain, a man named Jack who sits in what looks like a police precinct. He tells Harry that he’s dead and that he’s not in the afterlife, but between. A place like purgatory. Harry is there because there was an irregularity in his death. Because the opposition, the bad guys, cheated.
Jack tells Harry he has to go back to Chicago as a spirit and find out who killed him. Only then can he move on to the next place. He also tells Harry that if he doesn’t, three of the people that he loves will come to great harm. If he goes back and doesn’t find the killer, he will be trapped as a ghost forever. He has Harry write down an address on a piece of paper, and that’s where he’ll start his search. We then learn exactly who Captain Jack is—Colin J. Murphy, Karrin Murphy’s dad.
Harry has the Captain drop him at the home of Mortimer Lindquist, the ectomancer seen twice before in the series. Makes sense—Morty talks to dead people. Harry is insubstantial, passing through a gate, and heads for the door. There he meets another ghost, this one dressed in colonial style. Sir Stuart Winchester. Stu is there to keep uninvited ghosts out, and that includes Harry.
As Harry is standing there, something grey and misshapen comes up behind him, radiating cold. Harry tries to warn it away, but it doesn’t respond, so he tries to whip up a quick “fuego,” but...nothing. Nada. He has no magic. Instead, Stu fires his musket at the thing, shooting a multicolored ball that destroys it. Stu says that the thing was a wraith, a ghost that lost its way. Harry is vulnerable to them as a new ghost, still smelling of life. If the wraith had consumed him, as a wizard, the wraith would become superpowerful. Stu also explains that as ghosts, they’re made of memory now. More wraiths appear, and Harry is vulnerable. Stu takes Harry prisoner and brings him inside to see Mort.
Only, Mort refuses to talk to Harry, so Harry’s left with Stu. He also discovers, in addition to the fact that he bleeds ectoplasm now, that six months have passed since he was shot. It’s May. And there is snow on the ground. Something bad is going down.
Alarms start going off in the house and Stu and a bunch of other ghosts rally together, heading outside where over a hundred wraiths are approaching the house. Behind them are darker shapes, lemurs, shades of rage, driving the wraiths. The ghosts attack the wraiths while Harry...watches. As a wizard he was a powerhouse. As a ghost, he can’t do anything. They take down the lemurs, Stu a one ghost lemur-killing machine, but then a final figure appears, a ghost sorcerer Harry calls the Grey Ghost. He uses magic on Stu, almost defeating him until Harry runs to him and attacks him in hand to hand. It allows Stu to recover. Then Harry sees the image of a floating skull with blue eyelights behind the Grey Ghost and thinks it might be Bob. Then the Grey Ghost vanishes. Before they can relax, they see a human, a mortal, trying to break into Mort’s home. A mortal with a pistol. Stu sends Harry to warn the ectomancer.
Harry rushes through the walls and tells Mort, who is alarmed and doesn’t have a gun. Instead he uses a bat which holds off the gunman, but not for long. The gunman raises his gun to fire and Harry realizes that he can jump into Mort and he uses a defensive magic spell to stop the bullets from reaching Mort. Then Mort pushes Harry out. Instead he summons a number of other spirits and they jump into Mort, lending him their skills and strength. He uses an old ax to take out the gunman.
Harry asks for Mort’s help again, but Mort refuses, claiming to be a coward. It’s Stu who convinces Mort to talk to Harry. Things are getting worse, and the Grey Ghost is coming after Mort, with mortal pawns, too. Harry could be useful. Mort gives Harry one hour. Harry asks to be taken to Murphy’s place. As Stu, Mort and Harry ride there, Harry gets filled in a bit on being a ghost. Stu is a kind of ghost teacher. A lot of what ghosts experience seems to be related to what they expect to happen.
Harry arrives at Murphy’s house and tries to get in the front door, but he’s blocked by wards. Wards very much like his own, though he notices they’ve been done piecemeal. He scoots around to the window and sees and overhears a discussion between Murphy and a man named Childs. The atmosphere is very tense. Childs clearly works for Marcone and he’s there for information. He wants to know if Murphy trusts the Ragged Lady. In return for the information he’s offering territory in Chicago. Murphy carefully considers the question and then gives a measured answer. She says the Ragged Lady wasn’t the same after Chichen Itza, and with Dresden gone. She doesn’t say she distrusts her, but she doesn’t let her guard down around her. It becomes clear that the Ragged Lady is Molly Carpenter. We also get a glimpse of Mister in Murphy’s place.
Then Stu comes to grab Harry, telling him that several creatures are approaching the house. Harry agrees to check it out. When everyone arrives, he dubs it the Justice League. Joining Murphy at her place are Will Borden, Marcy (another Alpha), Abby, the small-time practitioner from White Night, Daniel Carpenter, Michael’s oldest son, and Father Forthill. Looks like Molly is supposed to be there but isn’t. Then someone arrives, a White Court vampire named Felicia. She crosses Murphy’s threshold, meaning she surrenders most of her power. They have something of a war council, discussing Paranet disappearances in the Pacific Northwest as well as disappearances in Chicago. It seems that the power vacuum left by the Reds has caused all manner of creatures to appear and threaten humans. Daniel gets angry. He brings up the two Swords of the Cross that Murphy now has. Of course he does so in front of Felicia, the White Court vamp.
The situation gets tense. There’s no way beyond killing Felicia to prevent the information from getting out. Murphy sends everyone away and Felicia offers a deal—her silence for a few days if she can feed on Murphy. Otherwise the White Court will come for Murphy and get the location of the swords out of her. Murphy refuses rather strongly. Like smashing Felicia’s head into a table and teapot strongly. She throws Felicia out saying that if she tells the White Court about the swords that she will track Felicia down and kill her. Oh, and Stu, watching outside with Harry, lets slip the names of the three swords—Excalibur (Amoracchius), Durendal (Esperacchius), and Kusanaga (Fidelacchius).
Since Murphy is alone, Harry decides to grab Mort and go in. Mort says he’s there on behalf of Harry, but Murphy doesn’t believe him. She thinks Harry is still alive, since they never found a body. Harry gets Mort to tell her something that only Harry would know. He asks her if she ever found her reasonably healthy male. Murphy fires back with a few questions only Harry would know the answers to and he answers them. She asks Mort to bleed, apparently a common request these days, and brings him inside. She also brings the rest of the Justice League in to verify Mort’s information. They ask question after question but aren’t satisfied until Mister runs into Harry, as a ghost, and rubs against his leg. Then everyone accepts it.
Murphy talks to Harry, letting him know about the power vacuum. The Fomor have been attacking Chicago (as seen in the novella “Aftermath”) and that Paranet have been helping. South America is a mess since the Reds were concentrated there. The White Council is trying its hardest to keep things together, but mostly staying out of Chicago. They’ve only seen Ramirez checking on Molly.
Harry asks about Molly and Murphy mentions that Molly came back from Chichen Itza scarred, psychically and physically. Harry’s disappearance has made her a criminal, though the Wardens don’t seem to be trying too hard to find her. But Murphy thinks she’s not right. She talks to herself, she sees things, she babbles. And everyone is scared of her. She’s taken to calling herself the Ragged Lady, declaring Chicago her territory. The presence of a wizard scares off most predators. And she leaves scraps of cloth, a calling card, on bodies around the city. But the Justice League needs her, and they need her there to verify who Harry is.
Things continue to be tense, then the lights go out and Molly appears, dressed in layers of cast-off clothing. She also carries a cane because of her wound at Chichen Itza. And she smells really bad. It’s clear that she’s not fond of being around the group, she mentions that she wants her friends to stay out of her way, but then Murphy tells her why she’s there. She asks everyone except for Murphy and Mort to leave. It’s clear Molly is in a bad place, and Harry feels responsible.
Molly uses her Sight and is able to see Harry and talk to him. She asks for verification and he responds with a quote from The Empire Strikes Back. She believes him, of course. He asks her about Maggie and Molly says she’s safe, and with Mouse. Molly offers to take Harry to her, but Harry says only after they deal with business. He explains why he’s back and asks her to brew up some spirit-seeing ointment. Molly tells Murphy it’s Harry and that Mort is on the level. Just before gunfire sprays into Murphy’s house.
Harry reacts as if he’s still alive before realizing he’s not, then bounds through the wall, following Sir Stuart. Stuart teaches him how to move by will, essentially teleporting onto the truck. Then Stuart demonstrates how ghosts can interact with machines and he makes the truck’s airbag inflate, which leads to an accident with the truck. The gunmen run. Stuart intends to go back to Mort and warns Harry that sunrise will be coming and will destroy him if he doesn’t find a sanctum. Harry goes after the gunmen, wanting more information.
One of the gunmen, by the name of Fitz, has the men ditch their weapons under some snow, showing some intelligence. He then takes the men back to their base where a leader, a bald man, is waiting for them. Here it seems like Fitz can hear Harry. Baldy punches Fitz with blinding speed and the young man seems ready to fight back until Harry talks him out of it. He continues to talk to Fitz and learns that Baldy’s name is Aristedes. He’s a sorcerer, a mid-level talent manipulating the young men in the group. Harry feels a kinship with this kid, most likely an orphan like he was. He decides to help him, then finds out it’s almost dawn.
Harry teleports to his grave which actually does protect him from daylight. He does the ghostly equivalent of sleeping until he’s awakened by the ghost of Inez, a famous ghost in Graceland Cemetery. She tells Harry he will become a monster. And asks him if he really died doing the right thing. Harry thinks back to killing Susan, to accepting the mantle of the Winter Knight and realizes that he didn’t do the right thing. For Maggie’s sake, he crossed lines. Inez disappears and Harry meets the spirit of Eternal Silence who tells Harry he has to understand his path. Or else everyone will die. Then wraiths start to appear and Harry hoofs it. He exits via the cemetery gates and realize that someone is leaving them open, letting the wraiths escape. It’s a lead he hopes to follow up on.
He heads to Mort’s house only to find it burned down with tons of shades outside, now without a home. Harry finds Stuart in the back garden, caught in a circle trap, burned. Only half of him remains. He tells Harry that the Grey Ghost attacked again, this time with mortals aiding him, and they took Mort and burned down the house. Stuart tells Harry to save Mort. The shades Mort helped were all killers and Mort turned them from that path. With him dead, they will kill again. He passes Harry his gun made of ghost-stuff. Harry takes it. Then three lemurs appear and attack him.
Harry uses his newfound abilities, teleporting around like Nightcrawler and hitting the lemurs with the equivalent of punches and kicks. He takes two down, but the third hits him with a baseball bat to the head and Harry goes down. The lemurs jump on him and start ripping pieces off of him and eating them. Harry is defenseless. Until Butters appears, with Bob the Skull in tow, apparently able to see Harry. He releases Bob in spirit form who makes quick work of the lemurs and then feeds Harry’s memories (his ghost stuff) back to him to bring him back. Butters explains that he has a radio that can hear Harry and Bob’s light that can see him. Then he offers to take Harry back to Headquarters. What headquarters? That of the Chicago Alliance. Organized to defend the city from the Fomor. By Johnny Marcone.
Harry gets into the car where Butters explains that the fomor have been a big threat. Also that there’s a problem with Molly. Seventeen people have been murdered in the past few months, found with scraps of clothing in their mouths. Clothing that matches what Harry wore to Chichen Itza. A tall woman in raggedy clothing has been seen around the city. Harry isn’t quick to believe that it’s Molly. He says he needs to talk to her first. He also mentions the skull with blue eyelights that he saw. It wasn’t Bob, but Harry wants Bob to look into it. Harry brings up Bob going evil (the Kemmler thing) but Bob mentions that he lopped off that part of himself since Harry told him never to bring it out again. Harry guesses that’s what the skull he saw was. That piece of Bob that got lopped. Bob says he wouldn’t want to take on Evil Bob.
They arrive at the place where Harry’s old boardinghouse used to be. In its place is a stone fortress with the name of the Brighter Future Society. Butters mentions that Paranetters on their way through town sleep there. Venatori, too. And it’s an armory and jail, Bob adds. The security of the place is handled by Einherjaren, soldiers of Valhalla supplied by Marcone. They meet up with Murphy who’s sparring with a norse gorilla. Not an actual gorilla, mind. She holds her own.
They talk about Harry’s murder and how no body was found. They can guess the caliber of the rifle, but not what it was exactly. And it still could have been anyone. Harry brings up Murphy’s ex who might be able to help. Butters mentions Marcone, which doesn’t go over too well. Harry mentions that he knows where the shooters are, but won’t give the location to Murphy. Murphy mentions that Abby was shot and is in the hospital. A neighbor of hers died. Harry argues that they’re just kids, but Murphy wants to take them out. She mentions that she already killed talented practitioners. That it was necessary to bring them down. Neither will budge so Murphy leaves.
Harry thinks then of Kincaid and how his name never came up in the discussions. He certainly had the skill to shoot Harry and had once said that was the way he would take him out. But Harry doesn’t know how to look into that, and he has other things to do—find Mort and help Fitz. He goes to find Molly.
Harry realizes that he usually would track Molly with a spell, but he doesn’t have any magic. But magic is something that goes beyond the body, isn’t it? And didn’t he use magic when he was inside Mort’s body? He looks at Stuart’s gun and realizes that it’s constructed of memories, happy memories, memories of his life and his home. Harry thinks back to the first time he deliberately used magic, under the instruction of Justin DuMorne. We see Justin manipulating Harry, praising him, and Harry creating the flickum bicus spell to start a fire. Using that memory, he does it as a ghost.
Harry eventually tracks Molly using a memory of her, but he has to use one of her as she is now to make it work. He finds her in the lower streets downtown, being taught by the Leanansidhe. Lea teaches like Justin, using pain as a motivator. Lea explains she’s doing this because Mab still owes Harry as the Winter Knight despite his death. She’s a hard teacher, and even after their lesson she sends some Fomor servitors in turtlenecks as a further lesson. Harry tries a “fuego” on them, but while it shoots out, it doesn’t affect the servitors. It must only work on other ghosts.
Harry can’t help, so Molly does her thing sending illusions of herself all over the place, veiling the real her. Then an illusory wall of fire. Meanwhile Lea talks to Harry, aware he was there the whole time. The turtlenecks are held off until one throws some kind of shell device at Molly. Fearing for her, Harry jumps into Molly’s body and throws up a shield, then a real wall of fire. Then cops show up and the remaining servitors run. Only they weren’t real cops. Lea says it was a lesson for both of them.
Harry has Lea give Molly money for food and they head to Denny’s. Molly has a tuning fork that lets her talk to Harry (and sometimes see him). Harry asks her why the crazy act and she says there are several reasons. Then they talk about how Harry just isn’t into her and why and how Molly isn’t a kid anymore. And then about the servitors and what they’re like. Molly admits to killing them, using illusions to let them kill each other. She tells Harry that he helped protect the city because people, things feared him. Without him... She’s creating something for people to fear. The Ragged Lady. Sometimes it’s her, sometimes it’s Lea. And it breaks Harry’s heart.
Harry has a moment. He realizes how he screwed up. How his choices, to save Maggie, had unintended consequences, leading to, well, everything he’s seen as a ghost. He stands by the water and realizes that it could end his existence, give him oblivion. He’s overcome by despair, but then he comes back to himself. He’s the one who protects the city and it’s time he starts doing that.
How is he going to do that? Tune in next week to find out....