With Death Masks, the fifth Dresden Files novel, Jim Butcher returns to Chicago-noir. Harry Dresden, that city’s only advertising wizard, is simultaneously challenged to a duel by a duke of the vampiric Red Court and hired by the Vatican to find the missing Shroud of Turin.
The search for the Shroud leads to a headless, handless corpse that died of plagues, several plagues, carried by magically amplified germs. It also introduces Harry to the remaining two Knights of the Sword, Shiro and Sanya. Like Harry’s friend Michael Carpenter, they wield swords given to them by an angel, and they fight for justice and mercy.
On the duel front, Harry runs into his old girlfriend Susan, who has gone through some changes of her own. She warns Harry that the Red Court vampires do not want the duel to happen because it will end the war between the Red Court and the White Council of Wizards. They want the war to continue. Harry will have to watch his back as he chooses his second, prepares for the mano a mano fight, and searches for the Shroud.
That quest brings him into contact with deadly new adversaries, the Denarians. The Denarians are a group of fallen angels. They possess humans and give the possessed two natures; one human and one monstrous. They seduce and corrupt, and it is no accident that the token they use to possess a mortal is a silver coin.
Death Masks introduces some new characters, like Shiro and Sanya; the mercenary Kincaid; Ivy, the scariest seven-year-old girl alive; and Anna Valmont, a mundane art thief who gets in over her head. It also brings backs familiar faces like Michael Carpenter, John Marcone, and of course Harry’s cop pal Murphy. Butcher always uses interesting locations in his books. Here, he sets scenes on a yacht at the harbor, in the city sewers, a luxury hotel and at Wrigley Field.
The duel is fresh and suspenseful with the most interesting dueling weapon I’ve seen. As the story progresses, the reader learns a little more about Butcher’s system of magic, and Harry learns some things about himself. There is also a bondage-themed love scene between Harry and Susan that sizzles. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to overcome the differences between them. As Harry puts it, “Maybe some things just aren’t meant to go together. Things like oil and water. Toothpaste and orange juice. Me and Susan.”
The book ends with a dark twist, paving the way for a plot in a future book. While I didn’t enjoy Death Masks as much as Summer Knight, I liked what I learned, especially about the swords, and Anna Valmont was a pleasant surprise. This is a strong entry in the Dresden series.
Beloved familiar characters are back and new soon-to-be-beloved characters appear. Harry Dresden’s life is getting more and more complicated and that’s a good thing for the reader.