I like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series. I like the idea of a wizard-detective in novel-noir Chicago, VI Warshawski with testicles and a magical staff instead of high heels. I liked the wise-crackery of the early books, I appreciated the whimsy of Harry’s potion-making, and I loved his brown leather, weatherproof, spell-laden duster, one of the coolest pieces of outerwear in fiction. With Turn Coat, the eleventh book in the series, however, Butcher has wobbled off course.
First and foremost, he cheats on the mystery. Butcher gives us a murder that ripples across the overarching multi-book plot he has been developing. A “minority member” of the wizards’ White Council has been murdered, apparently by another wizard, the Merlin’s sword arm and Harry’s nemesis, Morgan. Plainly Morgan has been framed, perhaps by the Red Court Vampires who are in a cold war with the wizards, perhaps by the agents of the Oblivion War, or perhaps by a group of unknowns Harry has dubbed “the Black Council.” Harry reluctantly agrees to shelter Morgan and uncover the real murderer/traitor.
Here’s where Butcher cheats. He gives us clues that make it obvious who the murderer should be, but switches away at the last minute to a straw-man character he’s just set up. If the book were a stand-alone, only about solving a murder, this might have been fine. This book isn’t a stand-alone. It’s about uncovering a conspiracy that has been brewing over several books… several books in which Straw Man never made an appearance. Cheat, Cheat! No fair.
This is either a failure of will or a bad tactical decision on Butcher’s part. Maybe he’s saving the real villain for a later book. If so, please remind me to act surprised.
In a larger sense, Turn Coat has some other problems. The White Council is starting to look like an apparatus from Harry Potter, not Harry Dresden — a hidebound bureaucracy at odds with the few really “cool” wizards, like Harry with his badass coat. Substitute “Hogwarts” for “Edinburgh” and there you are.
A few intriguing clues about Harry’s mysterious mother, Margaret, help out the book, the island of Demonreach is top-drawer awesome, and there is a mano a mano battle between shapeshifters that is exactly as great as it should be. The incubi/succubi White Court vampires are overexposed, however, in more than one sense. And Molly? Can’t she go off to beauticians’ school or something, just for a while?
Jim. Get back on track. Give us a stand-alone Dresden book, Harry with Murphy at his side, where he finally delves into the history of his mysterious wizard mother.
Turn Coat wasn’t quite as good as the couple of books that came before or the ones that come after (I’ve read through Cold Days). The plot wasn’t as interesting and Morgan, an unlikeable fellow, is one of the key characters here. Also, I was disappointed that I actually guessed who the bad guy was early on (because Dresden gave me a clue by dealing with that character differently).
But, I still enjoyed Turn Coat — just not as much as the others.