One of the problems with a long-running series is that it accretes backstory as you go (unless, of course, you go the Rex Stout route and just pretend that time doesn’t pass for the characters, even when you have the client in a later book being the son of a character from one of the earlier volumes…). This is particularly troublesome for the sort of series in which the characters become more experienced and powerful as they go along. After several books, it starts to become difficult to find credible threats for your protagonist to face.
For the 13th volume of the Dresden Files, Jim Butcher found a unique solution to this problem: he killed Harry off. Hence the title– Harry was shot by a sniper at the end of the last book, and spends this whole book as a ghost, sent back to track down his killer. Being a ghost, he has an extremely limited ability to interact with the everyday world, and being new to the whole ghost thing, he has to learn how to navigate and defend himself as a ghost.
It’s a bold call, and allows Butcher to do some interesting things. It also adds an element of suspense that would otherwise be lacking at this point, since Harry is tangling with people who are pretty small-time compared to recent volumes. Only a small amount of suspense, mind, because it’s well known that this won’t be the last book in the series, so despite the somewhat valedictory feel of a lot of Harry’s interactions with other characters, it’s clear that the book will have to end in a way that allows Harry’s story to continue.
But the ghost-story device does liven up the middle part of the book. And while the changes in Chicago since Harry’s death aren’t pretty, they do shake things up in an interesting way. I’m not hugely enthusiastic about the ending, but it does serve to turn the page to the next set of Dresden books, which ought to be very different than the previous volumes.
If you haven’t read the previous twelve books, of course, this won’t make a lick of sense. But if you have read some or all of the earlier books, and were wondering if the continuation is any good, yeah, it’s pretty reasonable. Like all of Butcher’s books, it’s a fast-moving and easy read, and I’ll happily read the next one.