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Literature: Death Masks
Warning! All spoilers for previous books are unmarked on this page!

Sometimes being Harry Dresden really sucks.

Not only does a vampire named Ortega wants to duel Harry in a challenge that he says will end the war between wizards and vampires, but Harry’s semi-vampire girlfriend Susan has showed up again, and now Harry has been hired by a priest to find the stolen Shroud of Turin.

Some days it just isn’t worth chewing through the restraints...

Death Masks is book #5 of The Dresden Files. Now has its own Shout Out page.


Death Masks provides example of the following tropes:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Michael and Sanya both find Harry's final gift to Cassius a funny one.
  • And Your Little Dog Too:
    • Ortega promises Harry should he refuse to accept this duel, he will have his men and mortal assassins go after his friends, loved ones, and every living client.
    • During the duel, Ortega does this again, now naming McCoy, Mac, the Alphas, and Harry's PI mentor, if Harry does kill him.
  • Anti-Hero: Harry fully accepts this title, compared to the Ideal Heroes the Knights of the Cross represent. This is what allows him to smash both knees and ankles and come inches from killing Cassius, a Denarian, who has "surrendered" knowing full well Michael and Sanya would not touch a hair on his head. Even if they needed to get information on Nicodemus' final plan. Harry doesn't kill him in the end, and despite the injuries he gave him, Harry gives him a quarter for a phone booth to call for medical aid or possibly Nicodemus. Of course, the phone just happened to be on the other side of broken glass and pay phones need more than a quarter.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Harry keeps a basket of anti-vampire and anti-fae items near his door, ready for use against anyone who comes knocking in an attempt to suck his blood, carry him off to fairyland, or sell him stale cookies.
  • Artistic License - Geography: A rather infamous case for the series. When Harry goes to Wrigley Field for the duel with Ortega, he describes the acres long parking lot outside it. Wrigley Field has no parking lot. This gets Lampshaded a few times in the RPG book.
  • Badass Normal: Armed with nothing but conventional weapons and testicles the size of Mars, Gentleman Johnny Marcone joins a wizard and two holy knights in facing down two powerful demons.
  • Berserk Button: Threatening Harry's friends and loved ones is a great way to piss him off. During the duel and Ortega's And Your Little Dog Too moment, it fills Harry with anger . . . and fortifies his will enough to start winning the duel.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Ulsharavas, an oracle spirit, is described as such. While Ulsharavas is generally a good being, it would be a bad idea to anger it. So be sure to follow the instructions on how best to summon the spirit right. Harry was very lucky Ulsharavas wasn't too upset about being summoned into a Cabbage Patch doll and not a fresh human corpse.
    • Shiro is a kind, loving man. He would be the perfect babysitter and have no qualms helping Charity do the shopping. But when the Denarians are in town and he needs to draw his blade, the man becomes like his blade: sharp, cold, impassioned, dangerous, and not to be taken lightly. There is a very good reason why Nicodemus would give up Harry to chance having both and saving his daughter isn't that reason.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Unlike all the other Denarians, it is said Nicodemus and his Fallen Angel Anduriel are more equal partners rather than either Nicodemus in control and the Fallen Angel acting as counsel or the Fallen Angel breaking his will and having full control over the body.
  • Big Entrance: After hearing a minor character state "There's nothing that anyone can do to hurt me anymore," Nicodemus blows down the wall, steps through with his two Mooks and shadow, and declares "No matter how many times I hear that, it's always a fresh challenge."
  • Blood Magic: The plague curse used by the Denarians needs blood to activate it. They want Harry's but Shiro's will work just fine.
  • Book Ends: The novel starts and ends with Harry contemplating things that don't belong together. At the start, it's wizards and television. At the end, it's Harry and Susan.
  • Bound and Gagged: Harry's reunion sex with Susan, after Susan's vampiric hunger threatens to get the best of her. note 
  • Breaking Speech/You Are Better Than You Think You Are/You Are Not Alone: Nicodemus use these three tropes to craft terrifying trifecta attack on Harry, attacking how he stays poor and alone to the point of martyrdom, how he could be so much richer and more powerful if he let go of some of his moral qualms, and how he is truly alone because in a hundred years all his mortal friends will be worm food and he will still be here. But he need not be alone as Nicodemus is offering him a chance to join, to become something more than what he could ever imagine he was capable of being. With what Nicodemus offers, he could discover what truly became of his parents and find any family he might still have in the world. All he need do is join.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Ebenezer reminds Harry of "Asteroid Dresden", an old satellite he and Harry found when he was a boy living with him.
    • Harry was on the Larry Fowler show in chapter 1. The man gets back to him about what happened there at the end of the book.
  • Call Back:
    • When Butters describes how the mystery corpse's wounds came from a narrow blade like a utility knife's, Harry says he's seen such injuries before. Which is true: he'd sicced a swarm of utility-knife-wielding dewdrop faeries on Aurora at the end of Summer Knight.
    • When discussing just how bad things are going to get, Harry tells Murphy things will be worse than the Loup-garou from Fool Moon.
    • The demon Harry calls Chauncey gets a mention when Harry is considering going to him to figure out Nicodemus' plot.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Deirdre asks her father if he wanted the special bowl to collect Harry's blood. This clues Harry into what sort of ritual is happening.
    • When Shiro is holding Deirdre hostage, he purposefully cuts her throat with his blade before passing the blade over to Harry so he can run away with it. Harry later uses the fresh, clean blood on the sword to help track the Denarians.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Two brief instances. Both Sanya and Shiro are seen right before Harry runs into Ursiel.
    • Nick Christian, the PI who trained Harry years back, gets a mention. He would later play a small but crucial role in Ghost Story.
  • The Chooser of The One: Harry becomes said Chooser by receiving Fidelacchius from a dying Shiro, who told him to trust in his heart and he would know who Harry should give the sword to next.
  • Colony Drop: Committed by Ebenezar McCoy. You do not want to piss off Harry's mentor. Also qualifies as a Brick Joke.
  • Combat by Champion: Harry ends up being the White Council's champion against the Red Court's champion, Ortega. Ortega cheats, Harry wins anyway, the war goes on.
  • Convenient Terminal Illness: Shiro reveals he is suffering one to Harry in a letter.
  • Creepy Child: The Archive, or "Ivy" as Harry names her. The latest of a hereditary line of women whose daughters inherit perfect knowledge of everything that has been written down, in any form, anywhere...as well as all the accumulated memories of every other previous Archive. What makes her creepy is that all this was forced upon her prematurely; a new Archive usually takes on the position after puberty, but her mother was killed committed suicide before Ivy was old enough. Harry makes an effort to treat her like the little girl she is, and as a result she flipflops back-and-forth between being the Archive (and thus creepy) and a normal child, which even Kincaid believes is even creepier.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Shiro holds that the Red Court's initial war plan was essentially this. They wanted to break the White Council in a matter of months. To achieve that, they had been preparing for years but Harry's actions caused the war they wanted to come pass sooner than anticipated. The purpose of killing Harry in the duel is to sue for peace, and then in another twenty years launch a surprise attack once more.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Nicodemus is not only insulted by the idea of telling Harry his plans and vulnerabilities when he has the wizard on the ropes, he also keeps Harry in a completely inescapable position and wants to kill him by simply cutting his throat after breakfast. It takes a Heroic Sacrifice by Shiro to save Harry.
  • Deal with the Devil: Harry considers calling on Chauncey the demon from Fool Moon to locate the Denarians. He stops when he has his Eureka Moment.
  • Defiant to the End/Shut Up, Hannibal!: After much deliberation about that trifecta Nicodemus put out, Harry refuses Nicodemus' offer with the quote "[l]ead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This is followed by Harry's usual eloquence for declarative statements, when Nicodemus asked if he was sure, "Fuck off, Nick."
  • Demonic Possession: The Knights of the Blackened Denarius act as hosts for the Fallen. How much control the Fallen has depends on the particular relationship the mortal has with the Fallen. Nicodemus is on equal standing with his Fallen, but Ursiel's host was broken of any will long ago.
  • Eureka Moment: When Harry is looking at crossing a line, he spots Father Forthill's tattoo of the Eye of Thoth. This leads Harry to ask if his friend Father Vincent has it, which Father Forthill affirms. This crucial fact leads Harry to realize the body from the start of the book was likely the real Vincent and the one he met was an imposter. He was right.
  • Expy: As a character, Larry Fowler owes a lot to Jerry Springer. He's even called "Jerry" in an editing gaffe at one point.
  • Faking the Dead: While he was seriously injured and in no position to fight, Shiro, Knight of the Cross did this and overheard crucial facts to the big bad's plot.
  • Final Speech: Shiro, dying from wounds received from his torture was able to call on enough strength to give one to his friends and give them help.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • There's a subtle hint that Martin isn't really on the up-and-up when he tells Harry Susan was playing him for a patsy and actually had no interest in seeing him or retrieving her things otherwise. Susan denies this to Harry at the end of the book..
    • Nicodemus calls Harry Maggie's youngest.
  • Genre Savvy: This book reveals that after the events of Storm Front and Fool Moon when magical and supernatural forces threatened to destroy him and his business, Marcone has hired help from MonOc Securities to help guard his home and institutions.
  • Giving Them the Strip: In a supernatural variant, Susan attempts to grapple with Ortega, but his flesh mask tears open and he slithers out of it to escape, leaving her with a disintegrating body-sheath in her grasp.
  • Good Hurts Evil: The Swords of the Cross don't like to be touched by creatures of darkness, like vampires. And even half-vampires like Susan if she isn't of a proper mindset.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Shiro sacrifices himself to save Harry's life. That Shiro was soon going to die of cancer gives it an interesting edge, but considering how horrible his death was...
    • Harry Dresden knowingly picked up the coin of the Fallen Angel Lasciel to save Michael's son Harry from touching the cursed coin, knowing he could end up much like Ursiel's host and trapped inside his own body.
  • I Am Not Lefthanded: When the three Knights are fighting Ursiel, they hold back in an effort to try to get through to Rammussen and convince him to give up the coin and repent. When he refuses, Michael ends the fight immediately with a single stroke.
  • I Gave My Word: Shiro gives this to Nicodemus and in it he promises to not fight or try to escape for 24 hours. In exchange, Nicodemus promises to release Harry and not pursue him. Nicodemus agrees.
  • I Lied:
    • Shiro notes that while many vampires he has had dealings with do honor their word when they give it, Denarians are not so. They have no honor. True to this, Shiro knows Nicodemus will not honor their agreement and tells Harry to run once freed.
    • Ortega had no intention of honoring his side of the duel. He not only brought a gun to the fight to shoot Harry, if Harry won his men would still kill Harry's friends and loved ones.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills:
    • After the dual was interrupted with Ortega being sniped by Martin Kincaid shows this trope by gunning down Ortega's minions rushing the field and never missing a single shot.
    • Gentleman Johnny Marcone shows this by shooting Nicodemus, missing the Shroud of Turin Nicodemus has draped around him, and and all while standing on top a speeding train.
  • Ironic Echo: "Damn, I'm good" is what Harry says when he gets hold of the stolen Shroud ... and also what the thief who gets the drop on him seconds later says, mockingly.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Cassius gives up his coin willingly and claims he has seen the error of his ways. The Knights can no longer touch him, despite guessing these words are all bull. Cassius even says it is, but because he surrendered they cannot do him harm. Harry, as he isn't a Knight, has no such restraints and takes a bat to Cassius' knees.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Thomas brushes off Ortega's contemptuous sneers and most of Harry's lip, but objects to being told his outfit looks like something Michael Jackson might wear.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: In Harry's defense, the guy deserved it so much that even Michael did not object. Well, not much.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Harry does this to Cassius by beating him (breaking all of his limbs in the process) with a baseball bat. He then gives him a quarter and tells him he can call for an ambulance from the payphone at the other end of a wide parking lot. The path to the phone involves him crossing broken glass.
    Michael: Payphones cost more than a quarter now.
    Harry: I know.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Harry does this to Cassius. See above.
  • Kill It with Fire:
    • When Bob sees the sigil of Ursiel on a piece of paper Harry has drawn, he tells Harry to burn it then and there.
    • Kincaid uses special rounds in his shotgun to blast fireballs at some Red Court vampires.
  • Kryptonite Factor: Flowing water disrupts magical power. It is harder to toss a magical spell over water than dry land. Even standing in it is a deterrent to proper casting for a human mage. For this reason, Nicodemus binds Harry under some dripping water so he couldn't pull out a spell and escape.
  • Laser Sight: At the climax of the duel, a red dot appears on Ortega's chest from Martin's sniper rifle.
  • Little Miss Badass: Harry understands quickly that the Archive, despite being a young child in body, is not one to mess with in a fight. She could kill him if it was needed. She used mordite, Deathstone, against some vampires who attack her near the end of the book.
  • Martial Pacifist: Shiro advises Harry that he should try to make peace before going into the duel. To offer some olive branch to the Red Court. And if that fails, fight to win as sometimes fighting is the necessary action.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A piece of cloth nearly 2,000 years old suddenly gaining the tension strength to haul two large men, one with armor, out of a river. Harry even notes it should have gotten soggy and ripped.
  • Mystical Plague: In the Dresdenverse, the Black Death was originally created by Fallen Angels through magic. This book centered on Harry recovering a religious artifact before the Fallen could use it to create another plague.
  • Nausea Fuel: In-Universe. To combat the addictive saliva of the Red Court vampires, Harry whips up a potion to ruin the bliss the heroin-like saliva gives. With a base ingredient of stale coffee, Harry added hairs of a skunk for scent. Some sandpaper for touch. A photo of Meat Loaf for sight. A rooster's crow for hearing. He used powdered aspirin for taste. For the mind, the surgeon general warning on a cigarette pack. It works so well, the saliva only makes him itch.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Calling Dierdre, with her hair turning into opposable blades, "Madame Medusa" isn't exactly original.
  • Noble Demon:
    • Ortega does a very good job of pretending to be one (and even makes Harry think that he's responding to the crisis far more reasonably than the White Council have been,) but ultimately his problems with the war are purely pragmatic, and he's as much of a monster as any of the Red Court.
    • Marcone, on the other hand, is one. And Harry knows it. Marcone may be an evil man running all crime in Chicago, but he does have a strong code of honor and feeling of responsibility. Such as going out of his way to save Michael and Harry's lives when they were drowning in the river and then calling Murphy to tell her where they are, when he could have just walked away with the Shroud.
  • Not So Different:
    • Ortega offers to turn Dresden into a vampire rather than kill him in a duel, claiming they are not so different. Dresden fishes until he establishes that Ortega preys on children and cites it as a difference.
    • At one point another villain, Nicodemus, actually says "We are not so very different, you and I..." to Harry. That said, Harry's response on how they aren't is pretty accurate.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Ortega acts stupid about all things supernatural on the Larry Fowler show, claiming it is all fake and those who profess it to be real are charlatans.
    • Thomas, who acts like a drunken, unreliable playboy with no sense or restraint. In reality, he warns Susan and Martin about Ortega's attempt to force Harry into combat by champion and thus saves Harry's life, and even manages to bag a Red Court vampire in the ensuing chaos.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: Bob reveals he works under one. Bob is a spirit of knowledge and logic. That is his domain. As such areas involving faith, such as the Shroud, are out side his jurisdiction because such items don't have a sound rational basis to them. To accept on faith is to accept a truth without an logic proving it. He is wary to tread into the faith domain for fear of angering angels, fallen or otherwise.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Bob is terrified when he sees a sigil of a Fallen and warns Harry to burn the piece of paper Harry drew it on.
  • The Paladin: Besides Michael, Harry meets Shiro, who holds the Sword of Faith, and Sanya, who holds the Sword of Hope. Both are generally nice fellows but when Harry was captured and Shiro rescued him, Harry was shocked by the level of lethal skill Shiro used to save him, and the timber of his voice, not the soft, kind sound it was the night before but a cold, empowered tone, and eyes which looked upon Nicodemus without fear.
  • The Promise:
    • Shiro makes it clear, unlike other supernatural beings, the Denarians will not honor their word.
    • Shiro makes a promise to not fight or try to escape for 24-hours if Nicodemus gives up Harry and not pursue him. Knowing Nicodemus plans on violating his end once Harry was away, Shiro keeps his word and does not fight even knowing he was about to be tortured.
  • The Prophecy: Harry learns that an angelic prophecy states Should Harry seek the Shroud, he will die. So Michael was trying to save Harry by keeping him in the dark and away from the entire situation. However, it turned out Nicodemus waylaid the messenger before it could all be delivered. See Prophetic Fallacy.
  • Prophetic Fallacy: As Harry learned from Ulsharavas, the message was indeed messed with, leaving the second half off. The whole message was Should Harry seek the Shroud, he will die. If Harry does not seek the Shroud, the Knights will perish and so will the city.
  • Public Domain Artifact: So many.
    • This book introduces the Denarians, who are humans given power or possessed by fallen angels residing in the thirty silver coins used to bribe Judas.
    • One of the Denarians, Nicodemus Archleone, wears the noose with which Judas hung himself, which makes him effectively impervious to harm except from the noose itself.
    • They're after the Shroud of Turin.
    • Also featured heavily in this book are the Swords of the Cross, named so because they supposedly each have a nail from the cross in them.
  • Retired Badass: Father Forthill makes light mention of somethings he used to fight in his younger days.
  • Ring Ring Crunch: An exhausted Harry is woken up by his Mickey Mouse alarm clock and nearly smacks it, but stops because he "wouldn't sleep in the same room with a person who would want to smack Mickey Mouse."
  • Running Gag: Harry loses his coat halfway through the book, which everyone comments on afterwards.
  • Secret Keeper: Harry discovers Marcone's deepest secret. A young 20-something woman who is in a coma. It is for her Marcone acquired the Shroud in hopes it could revive her from her long coma. Marcone tells him if he ever tells anyone this, he will kill him personally.
  • Self-Destructing Security: The stolen Shroud of Turin is kept like this, with a remote to deactivate the security. In this case it's a precaution against the seller being subjected to You Have Outlived Your Usefulness after handing it over.
  • Spanner in the Works:
    • It is Shiro's honest belief that Harry did not cause the war. It started because taking vengeance on the darkness that wounded her, yes, but Shiro notes the Red Court had been slowly preparing for the war for years. Harry messed with their plans kick-starting it a decade or two sooner than anticipated.
    • Shiro also holds that Harry is someone Nicodemus is scared of. To get Harry at odds with the Knights, he went to great expense to stop second half of an angelic prophecy which said "Should Harry seek the Shroud, he will die. If Harry does not seek the Shroud, the Knights will parish and so will the city." He even offers Harry a coin or die to try and stop him. In the end, Nicodemus was right to fear Harry as it was Harry, not any of the Knights, who pieced together the crucial data, knew where the Denarians would strike, call in favors with the Police to shut down plan A, and call in Marcone to help stop plan B. And in the end, Harry realized Nicodemus' noose may protect him from any harm, but it wouldn't protect Nicodemus from the noose itself being used to choke him.
  • Spot The Thread: Harry finally realizes the man he knows as Father Vincent is not him because the man lacks the tattoo of the Eye of Thoth.
  • Stealth Pun: Ursiel's demonic form is bear-like. Presumably this was an overt pun back in Roman times, when everyone knew "Ursus" was Latin for "bear".
    • Listening to headphones, Thomas bobs his head in a manner that's not much in synch with the music, which makes him a White guy with no rhythm.
  • Thanks for the Mammary: Harry accidentally grabs hold of Anna Valmont's breast when she stumbles against him while getting out of bed. The stumble was actually deliberately staged so she could pick his pocket.
  • Throw Away Guns: Used deliberately by Kincaid. He loads a series of sawed-off shotguns with Dragon's Breath rounds — rounds that generate a massive cone of extremely hot flame, but warp the barrels of the guns to the point where they cannot be used again. Kincaid thus keeps several shotguns loaded with these on hand, and they prove extremely effective against Red Court vampires.
  • Traintop Battle: The final battle between Harry and his allies and Nicodemus and his demons takes place on top of a moving freight train.
  • Truce Zone: Mac's pub comes up again as a place where both sides set up the particulars of the duel.
  • True Neutral: In-Universe. For the duel to commence under the writings of the Accords, a neutral party must be picked to arbitrate the circumstances of the duel. The Archive was chosen as neutrality is one of her strongest traits.
  • Villain Ball:
    • Ortega saw what Harry did at Bianca's when it came to trying to get Susan back. He should have not told Harry his people planned on violating his word to not harm Harry's friends if Harry won and killed him.
    • Nicodemus should not have agreed to trade Harry for Shiro, despite how tempting Shiro was making himself. Nick knew if Harry got involved, it could lead to Nick's defeat. He had the message saying this waylaid. Nicodemus did and not only did Harry stop him, Harry realized the Judas Noose did not protect Nick from being strangled by it. Even the Denarians' "victory" in eliminating Shiro didn't accomplish much, as the old Knight was already dying and wouldn't have been a threat to them for long in any case.
  • Villainous Valour: While his Noble Demon act may have been a facade, Ortega was still willing to face Harry's Death Curse in order to give the Red Court an edge.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Marcone is revealed to be one when Harry learns he had the Shroud stolen not for his own personal collection but to try and save the life of a woman currently in a coma.
  • When Elders Attack: Excluding the fact several of the Denarians are centuries old at a minimum, Shiro easily represents this idea. When Harry is about to be killed, the man bursts into where he is, killing two guards in a fraction of a second and then takes Nicodemus' daughter hostage.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Harry considers making peace with Ortega, but upon learning he and his ilk feed on children in a nearby village, Harry refuses any offer the man could make him.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Snakeman Cassius surrendered to Harry, Michael, and Sanya and asked for mercy, fully expecting them to be Ideal Heroes and not harm him anymore. He was right for two out of the three. Harry, however, isn't an Ideal Hero. See Anti-Hero for more.
  • You Will Know What to Do: Shiro gives Fidelacchius to Harry and tells him to trust his heart and will know who is the next to give it to. See Skin Game for who ends up with it for good.
  • You Said You Couldn't Dance: Harry sweeps Susan off her feet as a means to get away from some Mooks. She quotes this trope — it turns out Harry moonlighted early in his career as a dance partner for a senior citizen organization. He told her he could not do rock-and-roll-type dancing, but ballroom is another matter.
    Harry: Tough to tango with someone with lumbago. It requires great skill.
  • You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You: When Harry asks Marcone why he didn't just tell him Father Vincent was a fake and instead went for assassinating Father Vincent even if Harry was close by and would assume it was against Harry, Marcone's response is pretty much this.

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