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Bookends : Just what in Hades is going on here anyway ? February 5, 2015

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Bookends : Just what in Hades is going on here anyway ?Skin Game

By Dan Davidson

July 9, 2014

– 864 words –

 

 #15 : Skin Game

By Jim Butcher

ROC Books

464 pages

$32.95

 

When the latest volume of the Dresden Files opens, Harry Dresden has been more or less isolated on a mystic island off the coast of Chicago for about a year. Chicago’s only public wizard for hire has been consultant for the police department, a member of the world wide White Council, designated Winter Knight to Queen Mab of Faerie and lately the Warden of Demonreach, the island where many evil things that should never see the light of day again (though they would mostly prefer the dark of night) are imprisoned.

Harry has been keeping to himself largely due to his duties there and to the sickening feeling that the Mantle of the Winter Knight is working subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in his basic personality and moral codes. He knows that Winter Knights tend to become monsters over time, and while he hasn’t had the mantle long, he has felt its power eating at his core, a process somewhat similar to when his psyche was once co-inhabited by one of the fallen angels (the Denarians) who live in Judas’ thirty silver coins.

He beat the shade of the angel Lasciel, but he’s worried about the power of the mantle.

As Mab’s Knight, he must do her bidding, but he never counted on her loaning him out to his old foe Nicodemus Archleone, the most powerful of the Denarians, those mortals who have taken up the power of the Coins and melded with a fallen angel. Nicodemus is assembling a team for a heist, and Harry, along with some people we have met before and other new folks, are needed for their special talents on this caper.

At which point we are all left thinking, “after the cosmic whatsis of the last three books, Butcher is giving as a caper novel?”

I guess it all depends on where you want to break into. In this case the vault belongs to Hades, and the access is through an earthly vault which belongs to Harry’s sometime foe and sometime ally, Gentleman John Marcone, the kingpin of all the Chicago mobs.

Harry has extreme reservations about all of this, but is bound to Mab’s service as a result of her saving his life once, and again that second time when he actually arranged his own assassination to prevent her from collecting on the original deal.

This is a Dresden adventure, so the pace is fast and furious and, as always, just when you think things can’t get any more complicated, they do. If Harry has a family crest, Murphy’s Law should be engraved on it. Even recruiting the last member of the team is an adventure in itself, but a lot of other things happen before the day the crew swings into action.

There’s a surprising sequence with Waldo Butters the mortician, who has been working with Bob (the elemental spirit who lives in a skull) and has come up with quite a few tricks of his own. While he lacks a natural talent for magic, he has managed to adapt some of Harry’s old potions and has come up with uses for Bob that Harry seldom attempted. It was a reminder of how much Harry has grown since we first met him analyzing crime scenes with former police woman Karrin Murphy. There are more surprises is store with Butters, but you can find those yourself.

Murphy is in this book as well, but has to be replaced in her role as Harry’s second by Michael Carpenter, the former Knight of the Cross, who is temporarily restored to full health and mobility by his guardian archangel, Uriel.

The story is, of course, full of twists and turns, plots and counterplots. Both Nicodemus and Harry fully intend to somehow turn the tables on each other once the basic law of the pact with Mab has been fulfilled. Waiting for the flip-flops to occur is part of the fun for the reader.

Especially fun is Harry’s personal audience with Hades, something that no one else in the crew is aware of. During that conversation Hades intimates that the two of them have a great many things in common, including their love of large, sometimes seen as fearsome, dogs. Obviously Butcher was telegraphing for us some connection that will pop up in a later book.

I mentioned fun. Though the tone of the book is noir detective and Harry spends a lot of internal time brooding and worrying about becoming the sort of creature he used to put down, there’s always a lot of humor in a Dresden story. Look up the meaning of Cerberus (the proto-Indo-European word “k̑érberos”), the name of Hades’ three headed guard dog, and then imagine what fun could be had with that. Butcher did, and it’s delightful.

Oh – the title. The dictionary defines a skin game as “a swindling game or trick”; “a dishonest or unscrupulous business operation, scheme, etc.” It fits the story perfectly.

 

-30-

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