Ghost Story

Jim Butcher
Ghost Story Cover

Ghost Story


I have spent the last few months tearing through all of Butcher’s Dresden Files like they were a trough full of cheesy popcorn. I’m not particularly proud of that fact, but Butcher has a great talent for action- and plot-heavy writing, and his stories are always a pleasure to read. Sadly, that trough emptied out after I finished Ghost Story, the most recent installment in this bizarre but compelling series about a wizard who moonlights as a private eye to pay the bills. I found a brief reprieve when I located a copy of his short story collection Side Jobs, but that just left me hungry for more. The announcement that the next novel Cold Days will be released in November has only inflamed my impatience.

All that being said, it’s worth noting that Ghost Story itself is somewhat disappointing when compared to earlier Dresden novels. Butcher has built many narrative tropes into this series that constantly threaten to become ruts, but he is generally savvy enough to courteously retire them when they have worn out their welcome. The previous novel Changes was thematically and artistically about shaking things up and establishing a new status quo. The new status quo is of course (spoiler alert if you have neither looked at the book cover nor read the title) that Harry Dresden is now dead and a ghost. One might think that Butcher would take this as an opportunity to tell a different kind of story than the action-adventures he’s been writing thus far—perhaps a somber, elegiac tale about loss and memory? Well, the dead wizard does indeed use the magical powers of memory to throw fireballs around, but that’s about it. Even as a mostly impotent shade, Dresden cannot help but get up in everybody’s business and try to save the day, at the risk of his continuing afterlife.

I certainly don’t mind Butcher’s action-adventure style, but this volume deserved something different, maybe something he wasn’t willing to do. A novel plotted around the ghost of a recently deceased person haunting his loved ones should be sadder than this, I think, and it’s not enough to simply show that some of the living characters have been ravaged by grief. Without making the reader feel that grief himself, it can’t help but fall a little flat.