Harry Dresden makes haunting return in 'Ghost Story'

"Surviving mayhem is about being prepared!"

No one knows that better than the late, great Harry Dresden, the mad wizard of Chicago who was drilled by a fatal shot from a high-power rifle at the end of his last adventure in "Changes."

"Ghost Story," the 13th full-length novel in Jim Butcher's engrossing series, has Dresden learning his hardest lesson yet — there's dead, and then there's gone. He's not quite gone. It appears there was some sort of supernatural irregularity about his shocking demise. After a short briefing in a bureaucratic purgatory from an agent acting on behalf of a higher power, Dresden makes the choice to risk his immortal soul to return to Chicago as a shade and find his murderer.

He could have just hopped a train to what comes after, but doing so would have brought tragedy to three people he loves, he's told. Anyone who knows anything at all about Dresden knows he's all about protecting his peeps. He signs on the dotted line and returns to the earthly plane determined to make a difference.

Only to find that he can't.

As a shade, Dresden can't walk in sunlight, be seen or heard by most people or, worst of all, channel his magic. He's powerless in a world gone dark, where his city is being ravaged by up-and-coming evils determined to fill the vacuum left by the Red Court vampire massacre the wizard set in motion to save his daughter in "Changes."

Six months after his death, Dresden faces the consequences of that epic, irrevocable act. Molly Carpenter, the apprentice who fought at his side, is physically and psychically damaged, wandering the streets of Chicago as a vigilante protector who may be murdering those she views as evil threats. Karrin Murphy, one-time cop and Dresden's budding romantic interest, has lost her badge and is doing her best to keep Chicago and beyond safe, but she's having to make moral compromises that are destroying her from the inside out. And it appears that Dresden isn't the only shade in town — The Grey Ghost, an adversary Dresden has faced under another name, is rallying dark parts of the spirit world for reasons that can't be good.

In a summer that's brought too many so-so additions to best-selling fantasy series, the latest installment of the Dresden saga stands tall as an example of how to do it right. Dresden may be out-of-body but he's definitely in character, smarting off in ways that could get him killed, risking himself for the underdog and championing causes that appear to be beyond lost. Like all Dresden novels, this one grasps the reader by the throat on the first page and doesn't let go, even when the last page is turned.

In fact, the last page of "Ghost Story" is, of course, another cliffhanger. The fact that I didn't mind — and can't wait for the next novel — tells me just how good this series is and makes me wonder about Butcher. After all, achieving what he does book after book is its own kind of wizardry.