California Literary Review

Turn Coat: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher


May 14th, 2009 at 10:33 am

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Turn Coat: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, Book 11)
by Jim Butcher
ROC, 432 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★★½

Chicago’s #1 Wizard P.I. Is on the Case Again

Turn Coat is the 11th installment in the story of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard private investigator. Jim Butcher has often said he has enough ideas to take the series well into the twenties, though he’s smart enough to provide an “in” for every book such that new readers can join up at anytime without starting at the beginning (or watching the interesting but short-lived Sci-Fi Channel Series The Dresden Files). Turn Coat is no different. The action begins on page one, and it doesn’t take long to figure out the main players.

Harry—A wise-cracking wizard P.I., now a Warden for the White Council, who suffers from headaches and a knack for getting into (and out of) trouble. He’s a lovable anti-hero who over the course of the previous ten books has picked up a feisty female apprentice, caught the attention of an angel, and begun to truly develop his own formidable magical powers.

Morgan—A gray-cloaked, pony-tailed, rule-stickler of a Warden who is nearly a century old. He’s also fairly disagreeable and typically has it out for Harry since Harry killed a man with magic as a teenager—an act that temporarily got him a death sentence from the White Council.

Mouse—Harry’s Tibetan Mastiff, which is a combination of a canine and a divine guardian spirit. Harry has called him a “West Highland Dogosaurus.” (This pooch is a bit reminiscent of Barb and J.C. Hendee’s extraordinary dog Champ in their Noble Dead series.)

The White Council—The governing body for the use of magic in the world, made up by its most powerful practitioners. They all come off as a little paranoid and mean-spirited at times. Unlike the past books, Turn Coat sheds a good deal of light on numerous members (Injun Joe, Mai, and the Merlin), which makes them a little less distant and mysterious.

The book begins straight off with an unexpected visitor at Harry’s door. Morgan—the heavily-muscled, gruff Warden who has tried to kill Harry more than once in the past—shows up bleeding and nearly-dead at Harry’s home, so it’s no surprise that trouble’s soon to follow, especially since everyone thinks Morgan’s a murderer. Harry quickly realizes that the only reason every other Warden isn’t right on Morgan’s tail with revenge on their minds is a powerful faerie counterspell that hides Morgan’s location. The problem? It’ll expire in two days. That leaves Harry with precious little time to uncover the truth behind the reason the White Council has branded one of their most stalwart Wardens a traitor for slaying LaFortier, a senior member. (Having been sentenced with an execution order from the decidedly unmerciful White Council himself years before, Harry has a soft spot for those on the run from the ruling body of magic in the world. Plus he’s simply a sucker for pretty much anyone in need. And that includes pain-in-the-butt guys like Morgan.)

It soon becomes clear that political implications threaten a civil war no matter what Harry discovers in his own investigation. But the idea of letting an innocent man take the blame for a crime he didn’t commit is unacceptable, no matter the fallout. This quest for justice is simply part of what makes Harry such a likeable character.

Before long, the stakes shoot up again when Harry’s ambushed by a Native American legend in living form: a skinwalker. Even when Harry recruits a pack of werewolves for help against this monstrous beast, the skinwalker toys with them all like a cat does with mice. In short—Harry’s in big, big trouble. It’ll take a team of powerful wizards to defeat an ancient creature such as this, and Harry’s just the one to orchestrate such a magical army. Throw some rain and darkness and treachery into the bloody mix and you’ve got Braveheart on an island with demons, fireballs, grenades, machine guns, and good old-fashioned swords. What you get is a can’t-miss combat scene.

Butcher’s characteristic snarky sense of humor comes into play throughout the book, beginning early when Waldo Butters, the medical examiner Harry calls in to help Morgan, says he’s not a doctor. “I’m a medical examiner. I cut up corpses.” Harry counters with “If it helps, think of it as a preventative autopsy.” A few pages later, Harry describes Morgan as having “all the comforting, reassuring charm of a dental drill.” You have to love snappy lines like these that are found all throughout this latest Dresden installment.

This fast-paced book juggles a number of different plots (political, personal, and romantic) fairly deftly while keeping the tension running high. Butcher’s so good at handling a potentially sprawling plot that it’s hard to believe his website biography which claims he wrote five “stinker” novels before striking gold with his next—the first of the Dresden series. He’s got a gift for action, drama, and dialogue.

The only real problem with Turn Coat? (There are two, actually.)

(1) It’s not all that hard to figure out who the real killer is. Some readers also lament that the villain isn’t a bit more . . . well . . . “big-time.”

(2) Harry has acquired such a laundry list of enemies (skinwalker, demon summoner, vampires, Black Council, giant spiders, etc.), that it truly is a miracle he’s alive, even if current and past escapes are admittedly near-misses. Clearly he’s got a bit of Rasputin in him!

Coming in at a hefty 418 pages, this magical whodunit seems like it might be quite the feat for a reader to finish. The best compliment I can pay Butcher is this: it flies by far too fast. And I’m not even a Dresden devotee (though I’m considering it after this fine read.)

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