Death Masks: The Dresden Files #5 -- Jim Butcher
Remember that awesome scene at the end of Buffy, Season Five where Giles explains the difference between heroes and regular people to Ben/Glory just before he kills the hell out of him/her?
Yeah, well, Harry does something like that in Death Masks. Except he uses a baseball bat.
But can you blame him for being a tad stressed?
He's been challenged to a duel with a warrior from the Red Court of Vampires -- if he accepts, they'll call off the war with the White Council of Wizards but he'll probably die, if he refuses the Red Court's champion will start killing off his loved ones. His old flame, Susan, is back in town, still almost a vampire, and maybe involved with a guy that Harry dubs "Blandman". The Vatican, not usually a big fan of Harry, wants him to locate an object for them -- The Shroud of Turin has been stolen. He gets called in by Murphy to see a headless, handless corpses that didn't die to the obvious -- he died of the plague. Which plague? All of them, and then some.
As usual, Jim Butcher gives enough background information to allow someone to pick up the series in the middle, but not enough to be annoying to those who have. (If you want to check out my reviews of the others, use my handy review index.)
There's more sex -- well, on-screen sex -- in this one than in the last four, and it's total male-fantasy sex, but I've come to expect that when vampires are involved. (In books, I mean.)
He's ratcheted up the level of pop-cultural references -- he mentioned the old episode of The Twilight Zone featuring the young Bill Mumy, Tom Skerritt in Alien, Charlton Heston... but my favorite bit took place during a conversation with the Big Bad:
"Such as why you choose this kind of life for yourself. To appoint yourself protector of mortal kind, and to make yourself the enemy of any who would do them harm. To live outcast from your own kind, laughed at and mocked by most mortals. Living in a hovel, barely scraping by. Spurning wealth and fame. Why do you do it?
"I'm a disciple of the Tao of Peter Parker, obviously," I said.
I guess Nicodemus was a DC Comics fan, because he didn't get it.