Movie Review: The WATCHER

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the watcherUniversal
2000
R

“Hello, I am Lutenant Hollis and welcome to my crime scene. Can I help you with anything, or are you just looking?”

FBI agent Joel Campbell, burnt-out and shell-shocked after years spent chasing serial killers, flees L.A. to begin a new life for himself in Chicago. But five months later, Joel’s best laid plans are abruptly cut short when hi new hometown becomes the setting for some particularly gruesome murders–murders that could only have been committed by one man: David Allen Griffin. One of Joel’s most elusive and cunning nemeses, Griffin has followed his former pursuer to Chicago in order to play a sadistic game of his intended victims and leaving his crime scenes meticulously free of clues in order to keep the police at bay. Griffin derives as much pleasure out of watching Joel react to every movement as watching his victims die. But when Griffin moves into Joel’s inner circle, Joel must quickly find some way to stop him before someone close to him becomes the next one to die.

And here we are, with the movie that Keanu Reeves would rather forget ever happened. And one that I would rather pretend I never watched in the first place. But I did. And review it I must.

Keeping in mind that Reeves had just come from making a little movie called The Matrix, his name was (and still is, really) a hot commodity when it came to big Hollywood movies. Hindsight being what it is, it’s pretty much common knowledge now that Reeves wanted nothing to do with The Watcher from the get-go:

“I never found the script interesting, but a friend of mine forged my signature on the agreement…I couldn’t prove he did and I didn’t want to get sued, so I had no other choice but to do the film.” [source]

What’s more, it appears that the script was re-written to capitalize on Reeve’s sudden popularity after The Matrix, but he still got substantially less than co-star James Spader. I can’t recall any time James Spader was considered the bankable name on a movie. Anyway, Reeves did the movie, but demanded that he be kept from doing any publicity for the film, as well as keeping his image off of any product placements. Which is why the poster image is in silhouette rather than obviously being the big mug of Keanu.

Anyway, this little trip down amnesia lane aside, I recall going to see The Watcher on opening night–that’s right, in the theater–due to my buddy Nex wanting to check it out, and there not being much else to do that evening. And, I was bored to tears. It was a sub-standard noir flick, with your standard predictable cat-and-mouse mystery and a laughable performance by both big names on this. There’s a scene where Reeve’s character is getting hisself pumped up for evil doings with a rather loud Rob Zombie song (Rob Zombie songs being standard issue for movies like this at the time). Other than that, I remember hardly anything from this movie, and I wasn’t about to re-watch it now to do a proper review for it. It’s a forgettable crime “thriller” that you won’t be missing much from if you decide not to include it in your Keanu Reeves theme night. Pass…

Movies+Beer Pubcast: DETECTIVE PIKACHU

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detective pikachu

James is joined by Brian, Andrea, Jacob, Everett and Sarah to discuss the live-action Pokemon movie, Detective Pikachu. Was it good? Was it merely fan wankery? Do the Exalted Geeks go down several rabbit trails during the discussion of the movie? Listen in and find out…

Movie Review: COOL WORLD

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cool worldParamount
1992
PG-13

“I’m a cartoonist. I drew all this. I have visions. I translate this.”

While growing up in rural Eastern Nebraska in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my family had a monthly tradition where we would drive to Sioux City, Iowa to the Southern Hills Mall (shout-out, there) after church, and spend the afternoon there. They would give my sister and me some monies, and we were off on that day’s adventure. Mostly, if there was any new movies of interest out at the time, I would use part of the $20 to see the flick at the theater inside that mall. And in the summer of 1992, one of those movies I watched in that theater complex was Cool World.

Keep in mind, I wasn’t as pop culture-savvy back when I was 18 as I am now, so I had no idea who Ralph Baskshi was, let alone his contribution to the world of animation. All I had to go on was that Cool World was a blend of live action and animation, so it had to be like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, right?

*sigh* No. No it wasn’t. Let’s get this over with, then…

Jack Deebs is a cartoonist who is due to be released from jail. His comic book Cool World describes a zany world populated by “doodles” (cartoon characters) and “noids” (humanoids). What Jack didn’t realize is that Cool World really does exist, and a “doodle” scientist has just perfected a machine which links Cool World with our world. Intrigued at seeing his creation come to life, Jack is nonetheless wary as he knows that not everything in Cool World is exactly friendly.

On my first watch of Cool World back then, I remember being beset by a combination of confusion and boredom. Having rewatched Cool World decades later just to give it a second chance in my old(er) age…yeah, this movie is still a very disjointed and confusing mess. Even after gaining a more informed appreciation of Ralph Baskshi and his cult films. The characters — both live action and animated — have no personality…and inexplicably, there’s a bunch of non sequitur bits of animation that just shows up and distracts from the story. And speaking of the story, that’s all over the place, not even adhering to their own established rules of their universe, and features a bat-guano climax ending that will make your head hurt before fading away into a memory that you eventually question you ever really experienced in the first place.

Overall, Cool World may have started off as ambitious and subversive, but ended up more a confusing mess. Watch if you’re morbidly curious, otherwise pass on this one.

Book Review: The NIGHT CLASS

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book-review-the-night-classTom Piccirilli
Leisure Books
2002

The college winter break is over, and Caleb Prentiss faces yet another semester of higher education. Struggling with alcoholism and frustrated by his irrelevant classes, Cal seeks solace in the arms of his scholastic-conscious girlfriend and in somnambulistic conversation with a mystifying college radio DJ. But Cal’s ennui is shattered when he discovers evidence of a murder which occurred in his room over the Christmas recess. Obsessed with unearthing the particulars of this gruesome and haunting event, Cal wanders down the grotesque hallowed halls of a university gone mad. Run-ins with the two hard-nosed campus security guards, relationship hurdles with both friends and lovers, and enigmatic signals from the Dean’s icily eminent wife force Caleb to question his place in the bizarre night classes of higher education. Even as he gets ever closer to the truth, Caleb is plagued by the supernatural occurrence known as stigmata: his hands bleed in imitation of the wounds of Christ whenever someone close to him dies. And Cal’s hands are bleeding a lot these days.

Thomas Piccirilli was not an author I was familiar with back when I ran into the paperback edition of the book The Night Class while perusing the pittance that is the book section of the local Wal Mart back in 2002. It was the cover of this just-released mass market edition of the book that caught my eye, and the blurb on the back deepened my interest, so I bought it and gave this a shot.

As it turns out, The Night Class happens to be the only novel I’ve read of his. Out of respect for the dead (Piccirilli died of cancer at the age of 50 back in July of 2015), I’m not going to rag on him too much; and really, only reading one novel out of the rather prolific output he’s managed since 1990 isn’t the best way to judge likability. The Night Class, however, was his eighth published novel, so it’s not like I picked up his first attempt at writing to go off of.

The style of the story in The Night Class can be best described as “Noir Horror”. At its core is a murder mystery that has a dark surreal psychological underpinning that lends itself to some bending of reality, so to speak. When it works, it works, as the tone and atmosphere is nicely dark and dreadful. The first part of the novel builds up pretty well; it’s when we hit the mid-part is when things get a bit sluggish, especially when all the flashbacks start happening. At some points, I had to start over a section just to remember if I was reading the present or if we were once again in a flashback. The behavior of the characters, and some of the dialog spoken is supposed to invoke some surrealistic dread, but it was executed rather poorly, in that it instead invoked more than a few “huh?” moments. By the time I got to the end wrap-up, I’m afraid I didn’t react very strongly to the big twist.

I read The Night Class, and that was it. I haven’t looked up any further titles from the late Tom Piccirilli since then (I have run into a couple of his short stories in a couple of horror fiction anthologies). It’s not entirely bad, but not something I would recommend outright.

Book Review: The DARK HALF

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book-review_-dark-halfStephen King
Viking Press
1989

“You’re dead, George. You just don’t have the sense to lie down.”

When Thad Beaumont wakes to the nightmare of George Stark, he hears birds, thousands of them, all cheeping and twittering at the same time, and with the sound comes a presentiment full of memory and foreboding: The sparrows are flying again. Thad Beaumont is a writer, and for a dozen years he secretly published novels under the name of “George Stark” because he was no longer able to write under his own name. He even invented a slightly sinister author biography to satisfy the many fans of Stark’s violent bestsellers. But Thad is a healthier and happier man now, the father of infant twins, and starting to write as himself again. He no longer needs George Stark, and in fact has a good reason to lay Stark to rest. So, with nationwide publicity, a bit of guilt, and a good deal of relief, the pseudonym is retired. In the small town of Castle Rock, Maine, where Thad and Liz keep a summer home, Sheriff Alan Pangborn ponders the brutal roadside murder of a man named Homer Gamache. When Homer’s pick-up truck is found, the bloody fingerprints of the perpetrator are all over it. They match Thad Beaumont’s exactly. Armed with evidence, Pangborn pays the Beaumonts a visit, and suddenly he too is thrust into a dream so bizarre that neither criminal science nor his own sharp mind can make sense of it. At the center of the nightmare is the devastating figure of George Stark, Thad Beaumont’s dark half–impossibly alive and relentlessly on the loose–a killing machine that destroys everyone on the path that leads to the man who created him. As Stark approaches, as Thad and Liz contend with the escalating horror and implacable threat of his existence and Thad reaches deep inside his own mind to mount a defense, forces gather in the air above Castle Lake, outriders of the dead to the land of the living….To whom do they belong?

After a two-year hiatus in which he was dealing with his addictions and getting his personal life back in order, Stephen King wrote and released one of my all-time favorite novels of his career in late 1989. I remember reading the synopsis and review of this book in the Omaha World Herald that year, and my persistent requesting of the book for either a birthday or Christmas present (both fell in the same month, a couple of weeks apart). Instead of the book, however, I received a Smith-Corona electronic typewriter, and the 1989-1990 Publishers Guide. Eh, at least my parents were aware of my writing aspirations. If that doesn’t establish my writing geek cred, I don’t know what does.

Anyway, it wasn’t until the next year, when The Dark Half was released in the far more affordable Mass Market Paperback edition when I was able to get around to finally reading it. The general concept of an alter ego coming to life and wreaking havoc was heady enough to resonate with me up to finally cracking open the book and reading the story within. And when I did, it only took me a good five or six collective hours to consume this thing.

Seriously, I began reading it before calling it a night one evening, and then suddenly I discovered it was well past the midnight hour, and I had to get up to go to school later that morning. I took it to school with me, where I pretty much finished it up in the study hall period. I wasn’t planning on doing that; it just so happened that the story itself flowed so naturally and was engaging to the point of where I seriously got lost in it, having to pull away just to interact with the real world.

On its own, The Dark Half is a hard-boiled supernatural noir thriller that grabs you by the no-nos and yanks hard and relentlessly. Having found more success at writing paperback thrillers under a pseudonym rather than his more serious literary output under his real name, an author decides to symbolically put to death this alter ego of his after word gets out that he was the man behind all those potboilers. But, it seems you can’t keep a good pen name down, as the more-than-slightly-miffed dark half (see what I did there?) crawls out of his grave, and begins killing everyone associated with the writer in rather grizzly ways.

Really, though, the metaphorical concept of putting to rest your past and moving on, hoping it won’t try and come back from the dead and wreak havoc in your life is a strong one. Considering The Dark Half was written after a two-year hiatus wherein Stephen King was kicking his drug habit and getting sober before starting to write again, the underlying message is rather evident. Not that I’m trying to read into this, but it has been postulated by the author himself.

Compared to what was released a few years prior, The Dark Half is much more focused, much like a laser honed to cut through the skin, thus proving that sober and focused Stephen King is much, much better than fueled by cocaine Stephen King. The story is dark, streamlined, and doesn’t take the easy way out with the ending. The Dark Half is, without a doubt, my favorite Stephen King novel to date.

Book Review: SMALL FAVOR (The Dresden Files)

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Book Review: SMALL FAVOR (The Dresden Files)Jim Butcher
ROC
2008

Wizard Harry Dresden’s life finally seems to be calming down. The White Counsel’s war with the vampiric Red Court is easing up, no one’s tried to kill him lately, and his eager apprentice is starting to learn real magic. For once, the future looks fairly bright. But the past casts one hell of a long shadow. Mab, monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, calls in an old favor from Harry. Just one small favor he can’t refuse—one that will Harry Dresden between a nightmarish foe and an equally deadly ally and strain his skills and loyalties to their very limits. And everything was going so well for once…

It’s the tenth book in the ongoing Dresden Files series of novels, which means we’re two-thirds of the way through with what’s out there at the time of this writing. Just a little aside: On the Good Reads entry, there’s one reviewer that’s been keeping a tally of how many times the proclamation of “Hell’s bells” is made by Dresden. Here in Small Favor, it looks like it was said 21 times. Anyway, how goes this installment in the series?

Another year has passed, and here we start as Harry Dresden receives a visit by Queen Mab of the Winter Fae, calling in one of the favors Harry owes her. And this one entails being her emissary and protect John Marcone, the “gentleman” crime boss of Chicago that has played some considerable part in Harry’s life since the first book. This is no easy task, as he’s constantly attacked by the goatlike soldiers of the Summer Fae called the Gruffs. Then the Denarians show up again, as does Ivy the Archive, and then the party really gets started. The Archive is kidnapped, and everyone shows up on an island of really dark mojo for yet another explosive and wacky showdown. And not everyone gets out unscathed.

Aw, yeah, the Billy Goats Gruff. While the first couple make for some rather tense action scenes, the showdown (in a manner of speaking) with the third Gruff uses more of Dresden’s gift of wit in a way that’s just downright hilarious. That aside, though, the book hits all the standards that the series has, which at this point would normally mean things getting a bit stale and predictable. But, as reading Small Favors proves, things are stirred up in the narrative to keep things fresh. And the fate of one of the major side characters is quite shocking, to say the least.

Overall, another fun read, the momentum not slowing a bit. On to the next one…

Book Review: WHITE NIGHT (The Dresden Files)

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Book Review: Dresden Files 9 - White NightJim Butcher
ROC
2007

Someone is targeting Chicago’s magic practitioners—the members of the supernatural underclass who don’t possess enough power to become full-fledged wizards. Some have vanished. Others appear to be victims of suicide. But now the culprit has left a calling card at one of the crime scenes—a message for Harry Dresden. Harry sets out to find the killer, but his investigation turns up evidence pointing to the one suspect he cannot possibly believe guilty: his half brother, Thomas. To clear his brother’s name, Harry rushes into a supernatural power struggle that renders him outnumbered, outclassed, and dangerously susceptible to temptation. And Harry knows that if he screws this one up, people will die—and one of them will be his brother…

Ninth book in the ongoing Dresden Files series, this one involving a murder mystery and the White Court Vampires again. Also, that pesky fallen angel that’s been stuck in Dresden’s head. I can only imagine how annoying that would be. I already have enough trouble with voices without having a fallen angel taking up residence inside my noggin. Anyway, considering the book itself…

Someone, or something, is killing magic practitioners in Chicago and making them look like suicides. While investigating, Harry discovers his former love Elaine is in town banding the other minor practitioners together for safety. He comes cross a mysterious gray cloaked figure with tries to one of the surviving necromancers from Dead Beat, and a branch of vampires who feed off fear are responsible for the suicide-looking murders. Meanwhile, Harry’s half-brother Thomas has been smuggling magically talented women out of the city to protect them, they’re attacked by ghouls, and Harry saves Elaine from an attack. Seems Madrigal Raith–the Lord of the White Court of vampires–is behind all of this, and so Harry rallies the troops to confront him about his shenanigans of late. Things go boom.

Overall, White Night was a pretty good supernatural mystery that continues the overall drama and story of Dresden’s life. There’s some further development and a bit of insight into just what kind of dog Mouse really is, the whole White Court vampire dynamic makes for some amusing soap opera drama and such. Also, there’s a surprise resolution of an arc that I thought was going to be stretched out a bit longer, maybe the next couple of books or so. Long story short, though, another action-y urban fantasy noir mystery with just a hint of cheese goodness.

Book Review: PROVEN GUILTY (The Dresden Files)

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2-10 - Book Review: Dresden Files 8 - Proven GuiltyJim Butcher
ROC
2007

There’s no love lost between Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, and the White Council of Wizards, who find him brash and undisciplined. But, war with the vampires has thinned their ranks, so the Council has drafted Harry as a Warden and assigned him to look into rumors of black magic in the Windy City. As Harry adjusts to his new role, another problem arrives in the form of the tattooed and pierced daughter of an old friend, all grown-up and already in trouble. Her boyfriend is the only suspect in what looks like a supernatural assault straight out of a horror film. Malevolent entities that feed on fear are loose in Chicago, but it’s all in a day’s work for a wizard, his faithful dog, and a talking skull named Bob…

Book number 8 in the Dresden Files series. It was released the year after the previous novel (as most of these were), but since I was loaned all fifteen (at the time), and had the chance to binge-read them (to my young readers: “Binge Reading” is like “Binge Watching”, only with these things called “books” instead of “television shows”), I have to keep in mind that the events here take place almost a year after Dead Beat. And last time, things were topped off with a freakin’ zombie T-Rex. What surprises does this one hold?

Things kick off with Harry Dresden–who is now a fully appointed Warden of the White Counsel of Wizards (irony)–attending the trial and execution of a sixteen-year-old boy for going over to the dark side of wizardry. He’s then tasked with finding out why the Summer and Winter courts of the Fae haven’t attacked the Red Court vampires, and also to check out a spike in black magic usage in Chicago. Harry then finds himself investigating strange attacks at a local horror movie convention, which turns out to be perpetrated by supernatural predators called phobophages, and when he manages to get them to turn on the person who summoned them, discovers that it was the oldest daughter of Michael Carpenter–Molly Carpenter, who is kidnapped into the Nevernever. Meanwhile, turns out the Winter Queen is acting rather odd, which is making everyone on both sides of the Fae nervous, and so Harry has no choice but to storm the Winter stronghold to rescue Molly and try not to bring the entirety of the Winter Fae upon him. He succeeds in one part. Try and guess which one.

Well, now, this one was interesting. First of all, the whole “fears coming to life” thing happening at a horror convention…sure, why not? So far, this is the only book where them phobophages appear; the concept of the creatures is rather intriguing, and it seems was an original concept by Butcher for the purpose of this story. But man, this is something I’d like to explore a bit, maybe flesh out in a short story or something. Anyway, interesting development with Molly, and quite a bit of deeper development with Charity Carpenter beyond Strong Willed Mother Who Doesn’t Like Harry. And not only does it seem that the whole Warden gig is permanent, but there’s a grander conspiracy going on than meets the eye. Such is the nature of conspiracies, one would presume.

So, overall, the series continues to be an intriguing one, willing to take some risks with the ongoing development of the overarching mythos and characters, while trying something new with old concepts.

Book Review: DEAD BEAT (The Dresden Files)

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2-9 - Book Review: Dresden Files 7 - Dead BeatJim Butcher
ROC
2006

Paranormal investigations are Harry Dresden’s business, and Chicago is his beat as he tries to bring law and order to a world of wizards and monsters that exist alongside everyday life. And though most inhabitants of the Windy City don’t believe in magic, the Special Investigations department of the Chicago PD knows better. Karrin Murphy is the head of SI and Harry’s good friend. So when a killer vampire threatens to destroy Murphy’s reputation unless Harry does her bidding, he has no choice. The vampire wants the Word of Kemmler (whatever that is) and all the power that comes with it. Now Harry is in a race against time—and six merciless necromancers—to find the Word before Chicago experiences a Halloween night to wake the dead…

The seventh book in the Dresden Files series, and…gads, let me just go ahead and get the descript out of the way, here…

Here we are, a year or so after the events of the previous novel, a couple days before Halloween night, and the Black Court vampire Marva that made things toasty for Harry Dresden only one book ago has decided to blackmail him into finding a book called The Word of Kemmier within 3 days, or his cop buddy Murphy with be set up for the murder of one of Mavra’s minions. Since you just can’t find a copy of The Word of Kemmier on Amazon, and knowing that his supernatural equivalent of Wikipedia–Bob the Skull–used to belong to the necromancer who wrote it, he starts there. It doesn’t go well. Actually, scratch that–it goes as well as you could expect for Harry Dresden. Bob has a split personality, medical examiner and polka enthusiast Waldo Butters gets attacked by another necromancer, learns of another book everyone’s after, and it ends up there are actually three sets of necromancers looking to use both books to turn one of them into a minor god. And to stop this, Harry not only needs to help of the other wizard Wardens, Butters, his vampire half-brother Thomas, but also a reanimated Tyrannosaurus Rex. I’ll just leave it at that.

Okay, sure, the last book had flaming poo-flinging demon gorillas. Dead Beat raises the absurd-cool factor by way of a freakin’ zombie T-Rex. I believe the meme goes thusly: Your Argument Is Invalid. Outside of that, holy crap what a story–a bunch of necromancers wanting to become gods, Evil Bob, the summoning of the Elfking (the master of the Wild Hunt and not someone you’d want to cross, let along try and summon); all this and Harry might be losing it a bit in the head. And, he’s also made a Warden. Not exactly a good day, there. Though, I would suspect riding a freakin’ zombie T-Rex makes up for everything.

Why are you not reading this series? Read it now.

Book Review: BLOOD RITES (The Dresden Files)

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2-8 - Book Review: Dresden Files 6 - Blood RitesJim Butcher
ROC
2004

For Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, there have been worse assignments than going undercover on the set of an adult film. Like fleeing a burning building full of enraged demon-monkeys, for instance. Or going toe-to-leaf with a walking plant monster. Still, there’s something more troubling than usual about his newest case. The film’s producer believes he’s the target of a sinister curse, but it’s the women around him who are dying, in increasingly spectacular ways. Harry’s doubly frustrated because he got involved with this bizarre mystery only as a favor to Thomas, his flirtatious, self-absorbed vampire acquaintance of dubious integrity. Thomas has a personal stake in the case Harry can’t quite figure out, until his investigation leads him straight to Thomas’s oversexed vampire family. Harry’s about to discover that Thomas’s family tree has been hiding a shocking secret: a revelation that will change Harry’s life forever.

Sixth book in the Dresden Files series, and this one probably has the greatest opening committed to the written page. And also a plot setup that could have turned into a Marx Brothers routine, but then…well, here’s my lil’ synopsis of the story…

After rescuing a bunch of puppies that were kidnapped by a bunch of flaming poo-flinging demon gorillas (which is, actually, not the weirdest thing I’ve had to write out loud), Harry discovers one of the puppies decided to stick around. And Harry Dresden doesn’t have time to return the stray bundle of furry cuteness, as his White Court vampire buddy Thomas Raith has hired Harry to investigate a series of bizarre deaths on the set of a porno shoot. It looks to be magic-based, which is bad enough; things get a bit more complicated, though, when another vampire from the White Court shows up as a replacement actress, and decides to kill both Harry and Thomas for being involved. But, then that’s put to the back-burner when an attack by Black Court vampires happens. Lord Raith tries to assassinate Harry with Death By Snu-Snu, but is saved by Thomas, who reveals a bit of Harry’s family line. Harry is framed for the murder of another actress at the shoot, but that doesn’t last too long as the perpetrator is not very bright. Then Harry, Murphy, the professional hitman acquaintance of theirs, and Harry’s wizard mentor take out a nest of Black Court vampires, while only getting a little bit french fried.

First of all, if I didn’t have you by “flaming poo-flinging demon gorillas”, then you’re reading the entirely wrong blog. Also, you probably wouldn’t be the kind of person I’d be personally associating with anyway, so chances are you’re not reading this blog to begin with. Second of all, this story was another one that happened to make me read through a bit faster than normal. Yeah, this is something that could have turned into shark-jumping slapstick-y wackiness (especially with one bit of plot twist that was spoiled in the previous paragraph); but instead, it furthered the overarching story involving the vampire courts, fleshed out quite a bit on the mythos that Butcher is building, and still maintained quite a bit of action with the customary twists and turns that marks a jolly good multi-layered mystery. Also, DRESDEN GETS A PUPPY! Mister’s not gonna be happy. In any case, another good romp thus far.

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