In my mind, Grave Peril is really the first Dresden book, with Storm Front and Fool Moon being prequels. The third volume continues the tradition of self-contained mystery, but it’s vastly improved by the fact that most participants get to go on and have major roles in rest of the series. Not only that, but consequential things happens to these participants.
What’s great about Grave Peril is that it starts so theatrically. Everyone is in costume, making a grand entrance. ‘My duster billowing out in a black cloud behind me, Michael’s white cloak spreading like the wings of the avenging angel whose namesake he was’. It’s so over the top.
Let’s start with Michael. Michael is honest to god (or God) paladin. He is unbearably lawful good. If Harry has his temptations, Michael is so pure that in any other book, he would be a giant annoying pain in the ass. He does get judgmental (all this ‘living in sin’ business), but he a) at least practices what he preaches and b) not so blindly judgmental that it endangers others. He will come to your rescue even if you do live in sin.
And there’s quite a bit of rescue to be done in Grave Peril. Michael ends up stepping in with not just his sword, but supernatural knowledge and plain common sense (‘Harry, you are not the biggest kid on the block’). Once again, Harry is made vulnerable right when he needs his power most (‘it ate my magic?’), and yet still manages to pull through. It is, of course, a useful story tool to have your protagonist struggle. It would be a very boring series if Harry were just blasting through walls and bad guys in easy mode all the time. And yet he survives and wins by a hair so often, that you start to wonder how he survives at all. Perhaps these nigh-impossible escapes are what creates his image as a powerful wizard: ‘For a guy with two sticks and a pair of yellow ducky boxer shorts, you must think I’m a real danger’. Part of the fun of reading the Dresden Files is watching him get out of these seemingly impossible situations by either drawing on previously unnoticed resources or through help of friends like Michael (after all, every Slayer has some sort of Scooby gang).
Another cool thing about Grave Peril? Great amount of Bob.
And finally, my favorite scene, page 231. ‘Harry. Look at his cigarette.’