Dead Beat is the first of the Dresden Files novels I chose to pick up. To any of you who don't believe covers can make the difference in purchasing a novel or not, know that I bought the book entirely based on the cover above. The whole badass Neo-Noir Private Eye with the big hat and the wizard's staff was just so cool, it compelled me to pick up the book even as I had no knowledge about what it was about. Given I eventually became a huge fan, you could say this book made a positive impression on me.
Even as a new reader.
The noir-horror-humor-urban fantasy mixture was unlike anything I'd read before. The closest thing I could compare it to was a slightly more adult Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. It was funny, serious, dramatic, human, and quirky all at the same time. This, of course, is a pretty good description of Angel but I liked this more than I ever liked it.
How do I convey how awesome, surreal, and fun this book is in a sentence?
The book has a wizard riding a animate T-Rex skeleton down through Chicago. To fight evil wizards. On Halloween. And there's a perfectly plausible reason why this is the most sensible course of action for him to take.
This is why I love this series!
The premise is Harry Dresden finds himself in the middle of a power-play between three Archwizards who are looking for the most powerful black magic ritual in the world. Which, coincidentally, is in Chicago. Harry has faced many powerful threats before in the past but this is the first time he is just completely outside of his weight class. Like Spiderman fighting the Incredible Hulk, outside of his weight class. Harry gets banged up, thrown around, and barely survives each of his encounters with the wizards he faces.
This is with help from the Wardens, the wizard secret police who are no slouches themselves. The fact Harry has backup from people who have, traditionally, considered him to be just short of a dark wizard shows just how bad things are for our hero. Harry has friends who can provide him power, enough, to stop the Archwizards but the cost for this would be horrific. Harry could turn to the Queen of the Unseelie Court or a demoness all-too-willing to give him power in hopes of corrupting him. This in addition to the fact his other backup is still suspicious of his motives.
Man, Harry doesn't have many good friends, does he?
We get introduced to the fabulous character of Anastasia Luccio, Italian Warden and all-round asskicker plus the menacing but charismatic Cowl. We also get the subplot with "Lash" that proves to be one of my favorites. The character of Butters proves to be my favorite, though, being the Polka-loving medical examiner who becomes this book's unexpected breakout hit. Plenty of characters from previous volumes show up this time around and they're all in-character.
In conclusion, Dead Beat is a great book with an epic storyline, humor, high stakes, and plot developments. The characterization is strong in this book, the events change the course of Harry's life, and the jokes are funny. The events of this book reverberate through the rest of the books more than any other save Grave Peril and Changes. In short, this is one of the must-buys of the series.