I've read the first three of Jim Butcher's Dresden books and wasn't all that enamored of them. I know, heresy. Child of Fire by Harry Connolly reminds me of the Dresden books, except, you know, a lot better.
Ray Lilly is an ex-con working for Annalise, a woman who hunts down rogue sorcerers. Annalise hates him. Ray's just glad to be out of prison. The two of them are investigating some strange events in the town of Hammer Bay; Ray doesn't know what's going on since Annalise doesn't feel the need to share information with someone she expects will be dead within hours. Ray's tougher than she thinks, though. And when he realizes the children of Hammer Bay are dying in magical fires that no one seems to notice--even the parents don't seem aware that they've lost kids--Ray's determined to do what he can to help.
Ray is a nice guy with a lot of regrets about his past. He knows how easy it would be to act like a typical ex-con, bulling his way through problems with violence, and he knows he doesn't want to be that kind of person. He's also drawn strongly to magic--part of the reason he's willing to work for Annalise--and has his own little piece, a 'ghost knife' that will cut through ghosts, magic, and dead things. I liked him, and I'm delighted that as the book progressed, Connolly makes sure that Annalise's own motivations become clear and her character becomes sympathetic even if she's never actually likable.
The action in the book starts almost immediately and simply doesn't let up. It's a hard book to put down once you've started reading. The townspeople of Hammer Bay sometimes seem a little bit too small-town-cornball to be believable, and at times I got impatient with detailed descriptions of things that didn't become important until much later, but those are small problems.
The pacing of the book is spot-on, and the big climax worked perfectly--not an easy trick when the mystery is set up so well. It's easy to set up a mystery that turns out to be a let-down. That's not the case here.
In short, this is probably the perfect example of an urban fantasy.