Private investigator and professional wizard Harry Dresden was shot by a sniper, his body falling into dark, cold water of Lake Michigan.
At the beginning of the latest in the Dresden Files, "Ghost Story," Dresden's spirit is yanked to safety by an old (dead) friend just before he's run down by a soul train.
As his savior comments, "Southbound trains are running pretty quickly. I figured you probably didn't want to hook up with one, mister man."
Why isn't the dead Dresden on the train? There was a "spiritual irregularity" in his death, which has screwed up his post-life paperwork. So the ghostly Dresden is sent back to Chicago to clean up the mess left behind and find his murderer.
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Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" series is a fast-moving hard-boiled detective series laced with magic, sex, vampires, werewolves, comic book references, fairies and angels — fallen and not. It's very entertaining.
Dresden finds out that with his death, Chicago has been invaded by various evil magical gangs, all fighting for territory. This is taking a deadly toll on the good guys most of whom were Dresden's good friends.
Being dead doesn't stop Harry Dresden from being the man he always was: a stubborn, forceful protector of the city and its denizens — both human and not — from all evil creatures great and small. Being dead just makes it a bit more difficult.
Butcher has always been ruthless about wounding, killing and maiming characters in his books. Even dead, Dresden takes a beating in "Ghost Story" only this time emotionally. For example, after contacting old friends, he finds their reactions to his ghost hard to take.
"It's one thing to know that the supernatural world exists, and to interact with it on occasion in dark and spooky settings. But the weird factor of the supernatural hits you hardest at home, when you see it in simple, everyday things: a door standing open that shouldn't be; a shadow on the floor with no source to cast it; a cat purring and rubbing up against a favorite person — who isn't there."
In the real world, it would be almost impossible to understand "Ghost Story" without having read the other books in the series. Readers could do worse for summer beach reading than to start with the first book, "Storm Front," and carry on.
There's more Dresden coming. At a literary convention in January — MarsCon, held in Williamsburg, Va. — Butcher said he'd sold his publisher a 20 book-series of which "Ghost Story" is the 13th.
So, curl up in a chair and see how Harry Dresden solves his latest problem — being dead.
Ghost Story: A Novel of the Dresden Files" by Jim Butcher; Roc, New York (481 pages, $27.95) to be released July 26, 2011