The Dreden Files deserve more exposure. Although I'm not a great fan of fantasy novels (although there's nothing wrong with them & I did go through a phase of enjoying them when I was in my teens) the adventures of Harry Dresden, resident of modern day Chicago and professional wizard transcend the genre and would appeal to anyone who likes their noir as black as possible and is willing to suspend their disbelief for a while.
Dead Beat is Harry's latest adventure, and like the preceding novels it skillfully combines a stand alone story with ongoing plot threads and the further development of Harry as a character. Set around the search for The Word of Kemmler, a book of enormous, dangerous power, it finds Harry once again standing (almost) alone against the forces of darkness and impossible odds in an effort to try and save a world that is mostly & wilfully ignorant of the threat to it.
As with the previous books the first quarter is a noirish detective story, with Harry trying to track down the Word of Kemmler whilst simultaneously tryng to work out what the hell (literally) is going on and to avoid dying at the hands of some very bad people. The narrative rocks along at a fair pace and is interspersed with some great moments of well written action. Harry is his usual, flawed, sarcastic self and acts as an excellent, world weary narrator. He is ably supported by a wide cast of colourful supporting characters, from his vampiric half-brother (you have to read the books to understand how that works) to his horse sized dog Mouse (ditto) to new arrivals such as the very human Butters.
In the final quarter events go from detective story to straight out action and the stage broadens out to include most of the City of Chicago. The denoument runs at such a quick pace and with such a sense of excitement that it becomes almost unputdownable, and the final storm drenched clash is action writing at its very best.
Through all this however, Jim Butcher doesn't forget to keep the many plot strands he has set up in previous books ticking along, and manages to establish a few more along the way. This is one of the great things about the Dresden novels; whilst the central story of each book is always by itself entertaining to one extent or another, the depth of world Butcher has created and the wider developments within it add even greater appeal for the reader.
In facy its very hard to find any real flaws at all with this novel. Maybe that's because, having read all the books published in the UK to date, I'm such a fan that I can't see them any more, but I also truly believe that there is very little to criticise here. Some might complain that the plot gets a little too convoluted at times, but its no more twisted than any other noirish-thriller. Others might dislike the way Butcher sidelines a major character from the previous books, but I think that having her take a break from the action is not a bad idea since it gives the book a fresh feel and she she will simply be more welcome when she returns next time.
Overall, for fans of Harry, Mouse, Thomas & all the other human and non-human characters who inhabit Butcher's world, Dead Beat is another nigh-on perfect installment. For those who have not discovered this series yet this is not the place to start (that's Storm Front, the first book) but by the time they do get here they'll be very pleased they did.