Note: I feel that Death Masks, Book 5, is where reading this series out of order starts to do you an injustice. This book does work as a stand alone to some extent, but you will get major spoilers for the previous books in the series and it also pulls in characters we have met before. So I recommend reading the previous books before you jump into this one.
Karrin Murphy has taken a vacation day and she has chosen to spend that day showing Harry a supposed suicide crime scene. She has her doubts and Harry Dresden, Chicago’s wizard PI, has his ways of accessing info that most people aren’t privy to. Now Harry finds himself drawn into a series of murders (which look like suicides on the surface) of low-level magic users. As he starts chasing down leads, he and Karrin can’t help but turn a questioning eye towards Thomas Wraith as a man matching his description was last seen with several of the victims.
Harry is now in charge, officially, of Molly’s magical training and this is the first murder investigation he takes her on. The first step is the morgue and a visit with the mortician Waldo Butters. Harry takes the time to teach Molly the basics about reading a corpse of some of it’s final memories. Molly was pretty nervous but her first foray into this little magic trick isn’t what any of them expected. Ha! It does give Harry one more piece of info on the killer but not near enough to figure out who it is.
This book brings back some old enemies and frenemies and brings in some new ones. There’s gentleman John Marcone, Chicago’s crime lord, and a personal favorite of mine. Harry and Marcone often grudgingly swap info and this time Harry will need Marcone’s muscle. Then there’s Thomas’s sister Lara Wraith. A new enemy plus an enemy Harry thought was dead bring some ghouls to the party and the festivities are well underway.
Murphy and Harry have messed with ghouls before. Pretty messy things and hard to kill when they are in a group. In this book, Harry has some flashbacks to one of his side jobs during a summer in New Mexico when he was training some of the new Wardens in combat magic. Ghouls are gruesome and Harry has it out for them. I like that we have this degenerate enemy that we can feel guilt-free in totally hating but I also like that Butcher doesn’t make them mindless.
Harry and a few other wizards have suspected for a while that there is some evil force working within the White Council but Harry has had no proof and no person to point the finger at. In this book, Harry gets a few more hints and some definite indicators that this nebulous evil force wants Harry out of the picture. This being a reread for me, it’s great to see how well Butcher lays some ground work here for some big things that come later.
Harry’s old flame Elaine returns to the storyline and provides Murphy and Harry with some help on their investigation. Now, I’ve never quite gotten around to trusting Elaine fully. But Harry does and for now that will have to be good enough for me. On one hand, I find her hard to trust because she doesn’t have an allegiance to any group and she works hard to stay under the radar. On the other hand, I think younger Harry might have done much the same if he had gotten the chance. So until Elaine proves to be a bad guy, I have to mark her down as an asset and a good guy.
Ramirez strolls back in to the plot and strikes up a flirt with Molly. Ramirez talks a bit of a game but once he’s faced with the White Court vampires, his sexual prowess is revealed in detail. Ha! Still, Ramirez stands besides Harry in the thick of it at the end of the book. It’s quite a show down. It is one of my favorite fight scenes in the series, and a lengthy one at that too. Harry’s snark is allowed to run lose and Lara takes the brunt of it at one point. Mouthwash indeed!
At the end, Harry discovers how Thomas has been keeping himself so well fed and he’s quite surprised! So was I the first time around. Molly has learned a bit about her own limits when it comes to combat magic and situations. Mouse, Harry’s dog, is more than he seems. And there’s tons more fall out from the happenings in this book but I don’t want to get spoilery. Over all, this book has a bit more serious tone to it. Harry is still a smart mouth and that brings some much needed comic relief to certain scenes, but the stakes have gone up. With that, the characters are all getting a bit more serious, pushing on each other harder, lines are drawn in the sand. All together, this is one of my more favorite books in the series.
Narration: James Marsters continues to give this series a fine performance. I greatly enjoyed his voice for Thomas especially when Thomas is putting on a fake French accent. His ghoulish voices sound just as demented, wet, slurred, and deceitful as I imagined they would. Once again, he does a very convincing seductive and charming Lara Wraith.