Review: ‘Death Masks’ by Jim Butcher (audio)

Death Masks

The Dresden Files, Book #5

Author: Jim Butcher

Format: unabridged audio book

Reader: James Marsters

Publisher: Penguin Audiobooks

Length: 11 hrs and 21 mins

Release Date: 10/29/09

(novel released 08/05/2003 by Penguin USA & a 464 page paperback sits on my Dresden shelf)

Acquired: purchased from


Publisher’s Summary:

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practicing professional wizard, should be happy that business is pretty good for a change. But now he’s getting more than he bargained for.

A duel with the Red Court of Vampires’ champion, who must kill Harry to end the war between vampires and wizards…

Professional hit men using Harry for target practice…

The missing Shroud of Turin…

A handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified…

Not to mention the return of Harry’s ex-girlfriend Susan, who’s still struggling with her semivampiric nature. And who seems to have a new man in her life.

Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. No matter how much you’re charging.

My thoughts… and beware, I think about spoilers quite a lot:

My thoughts begin with Harry’s thoughts. Rather, a specific thought that Harry has at the end of chapter 7  which sums up the action in the book thus far quite nicely, and sets the scene for the remainder of the book:

‘In this corner: one missing shroud; one impossibly and thoroughly dead corpse; one dedicated and deadly vampire warlord; three Holy Knights; twenty-nine fallen angels; and a partridge in a pear tree. And in the opposite corner: one tired, bruised, underpaid professional wizard, threatened by his allies and about to get dumped by his would-be girlfriend for John Q. Humdrum.’

In this fifth installment in Jim Butcher’s exceedingly popular Dresden Files series, we see not only the return of  Harry’s friend and Knight of the Cross, Michael Carpenter, we also meet Shiro and Sanya, the other two Knights of the Cross and their respective swords, Fidelacchius and Esperacchius. Their introduction is just fantastic as they blend perfectly into the background before rescuing Harry from an attack by one of the Fallen… the Order of the Blackened Denarius.

Yes, ‘Fallen’ as in, ‘fallen angels’. These guys are wicked bad-asses who use coins, the very same coins Judas took as a bribe before hanging himself, mind… to lure mortals into enslavement and/or at best, indentured servitude. And they are exceedingly hard to kill. Oh yes, did I mention that they want Harry? Not to kill him, necessarily, but to join them. And if he won’t join, then yeah, to kill him. Fun times!

Of course, the ass-kicking Knights of the Cross beat down the fallen angel scene wasn’t the first excitement in the book… oh, no! we begin with Harry hanging at the Larry Fowler show where, before wreaking havoc on the set of the TV talk show with his magic, he has chats with some interesting characters including Duke Ortega of the Red Court of vampires who challenges Harry to a duel and Father Vincent, of the Vatican, who hires Harry to find a very, very precious religious artifact that was recently stolen. Stolen from Turin.

Not only is all of that happening, very nearly at once, but Murphy drags Harry to the morgue to meet Dr. Waldo Butters, a quirky,  polka-loving Medical Examiner who’s had a glimpse of the supernatural. Poor Dr. Butters was actually institutionalized for a time after identifying some remains from the burned out estate of Bianca, the Red Court vampire, as something other than human. Butters has a very interesting client in the morgue that Karrin wanted Harry to see… he seems to have died of every disease known to man. All at once. How’s that for the icing on the cake?

So yeah… Butcher starts this book out with a bang, baby! And the punches just… keep… coming! The audio is just 11 hours and 21 minutes long and what an action-packed 11 hours and 21 minutes it is.

Much to Harry’s chagrin, Michael and the other Knights try to get Harry to back off of the case. Back off and leave town. Or we’ll kind of make you back off. Gee, thanks guys! Harry is understandably none too happy about this development and he’s at a loss as to where to find the shroud so he calls an Oracle from the Never Never for a bit of advice.

It turns out that the Knights received part of a prophecy concerning Harry and the search for the shroud. Said prophecy segment stated that if Harry seeks the Shroud, he “will most assuredly perish”. The Knights, however, didn’t get the crucial part of the prophecy, the part which was kept from the Knights by their enemies  in order to restore the balance. So the Oracle divulges the really important bit that concerns the Knights themselves: “If you do not, they all die and this city with them”.

To find the shroud or not find the shroud… whatever will Harry do? No-brainer, this one. What else would he do? He gets a tip on the shroud’s whereabouts and plans to check it out which leads him to the thieves and a handy-dandy little trap. But of course, did we think it would be easy?

Waitjustaminute… did I mention Susan? Ahh, no, it would seem I overlooked that little tidbit earlier. Oopsie! Allow me to take a moment to bonk myself on the forehead and backpedal a wee bit. So yeah, guess what?! Susan’s in town!

Yes, that Susan… Susan Rodriguez. Harry’s former girlfriend who thought she’d crash a vamp party in book #3, Grave Peril and ended up drastically changed by Bianca of the Red Court. If she ever gives into her thirst for blood, which will cause her to kill her victim, she will become a full-fledged, card-carrying vampire of the Red Court. At the end of Grave Peril, she beat it out of Chicago after turning down Harry’s proposal of marriage/promise to find a cure. She left Chicago and broke Harry’s freakin’ heart. But now… she’s baa-aack! Popped into town to quit her job and clear out her personal belongings, says she. Also, maybe to torment Harry with her mere presence and/or break his heart yet again?

I’ve got to say, that Butcher’s portrayal of Harry in the scenes with Susan in this book is just heartwrenchingly beautiful… exquisitely painful… achingly bitter. Of course, I’ve read the series before and as I’ve mentioned, I’m re-listening to it in its entirety in preparation for the July release of book #13, Ghost Story. I mention this tidbit once more to point out that my knowledge of the events of book #12, Changes just makes the Harry/Susan scenes in this book all the more poignant and bittersweet. Those scenes are made all the more emotionally charged by the very nearly perfected reading of James Marsters. He just gets better and better with each book, in my not-so-humble opinion.

So, back to it after that little aberration into the tragedy that is ‘Harry and Susan’… We have Harry trying to find the shroud, Denarians trying to lure him into eternal slavery and/or kill him, a Red Court Vampire hoping to kill him in a fair-and-square duel -right, like a Red Court vampire can be trusted to do anything ‘fair-and-square’?!- and if all of that mess isn’t enough… damn, I guess we’re back to Susan and all of the emotional baggage she drags back into Harry’s life.

In all fairness, she is pretty damn important to Harry, now and in the future of the series. All in all, Butcher has put together some truly magnificent ingredients to create a perfect recipe for yet another edge-of-your-seat ride on the roller coaster that is Harry Dresden’s unusual life.

One last observation… yes, finally! Hey, you’ll be glad I mentioned it as it’s one of my favorite parts of the book! Of course I’m referring to the introduction of the Archive, who is assigned as a mediator in the duel between Harry and Ortega and who is NOT what Harry was expecting. Her character is superbly written… she’s one part little girl sweetness, one part scary powerful and one part sheer bad-assery.

Last, last comment. I promise. Along with Ivy, as Harry dubs her (“Archive. Ive… Ivy.”), we meet Kincaid. In this book, he’s been hired to protect the Archive and while Harry is unsure of him, Ivy says he can be trusted. After all, he’s paid through April. We’ll see more of the mercenary in later books but here he provides a nice counter to Ivy’s innocent wisdom. One last bit about Ivy: her reaction when she sees Mister is. just. priceless! “Thank you for letting me pet your kitty.” Very nice touch, Mr. Butcher.

Fave quotes:

“You don’t look very… Archive-esque.” ~Harry to Kincaid

‘My tongue dropped out of my mouth and flopped onto my shoes.’

“Chew and smile? At the same time? Do I look like Jackie Chan?” ~Harry to Susan

‘That’s what you get for trying to be a hero. You get to eat a 6-pack of 9mm bon bons.’ ~Harry

“Ye ole ‘join up or die’ ultimatum. Gee, no matter how many times I get it, that one never goes out of style.” ~Harry to Nicodemus

‘”I’m a disciple of the Tao of Peter Parker, obviously,” I said. I guess Nicodemus was a DC Comics fan because he didn’t get it.’ ~Harry

Susan: “So help me God, if  you quote Clint Eastwood at me I’m wrapping this car around a telephone pole.”  Harry: “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

Susan: “You’ve really got class, Dresden.”  Harry:“Class oozes out of my  every orifice.”


Check out my other Dresden Files reviews:

#1 – Storm Front

#2 – Fool Moon

#3 – Grave Peril

#4 – Summer Knight

#6 – Blood Rites

#7 – Dead Beat

#8 – Proven Guilty

#9 – White Night

#10 – Small Favor

#11 – Turn Coat

#12 – Changes

#12.5 – Side Jobs

#13 – Ghost Story