Review: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
Turn Coat
Jim Butcher
Roc, 2009

Harry Dresden is back for his 11th adventure on the mean streets of Chicago. This time Harry’s part-time nemesis, the Warden Morgan, has been accused of murder and treason against the Council and it’s up to Harry to uncover the the true murderer. Familiar faces make appearances: Murphy the tough and feisty cop, Billy and his werewolf pack, Thomas, Toot Toot the fairy, and more all show up to get in on the action to aid, or in some cases, frustrate Harry as he races against the clock. Publisher’s Weekly brilliantly claims “Despite the sprawling plot, both fans and newcomers will get into the fast-paced action.” Which is something I can agree with but with a veritable who’s who of Harry’s past companions showing up I’m not quite sure who would really recommend Turn Coat as a starting point for any newcomer.

I always find series fiction difficult to review. I’d like to think I’m fairly good a avoiding spoilers in my reviews, but with series fiction the problem arises that one must deal with spoilers about previous books as well as the current one as well. With Butcher as least I have the advantage that with each book he releases he seems to get better. As a result there is less for me to critique. As with the previous Dresden novel, Small Favor, Butcher is spot on with Dresden’s tone. The first person narration is top-notch full of dry, sarcastic wit that easily brought a smile to my face on many an occasion. Perhaps more than in earlier novels, Turn Coat takes on a conversational tone; as if the reader were sitting at the bar have a brink with Harry as he told the story.

Where Small Favor and The Warrior (from Mean Streets) featured a certain amount of discourse about faith that is less the case here. With the holy warrior Michael now absent from the story there is less back and forth about the nature of faith or the presence of any sort of divine figure. In fact the weightier concerns of the last couple of novels, particularly those surrounding Harry’s moral ambiguity and self-sacrificing nature, are mostly placed on the back-burner in favor of a breakneck, non-nonsense plot. Or at the very least are folded nigh on seamlessly over the course of the novel. Unfortunately, the one instance where we do get a discussion about Harry’s nature (either in the final third or final quarter of the novel) essentially ruined the ending for me. I won’t relate the specifics, and I was already suspicious of the party in question at this point, but it definitely confirmed me who the tale’s ultimate bad guy was.

In truth, despite the solid narration and initial mystery, that transparency is this entry to the Dresden files biggest problem. There is element of predictability to the final showdown that makes the climax somewhat anti-climatic. At this point I have to ask myself if this is a result of a true element of predictability or merely a result of my familiarity with Harry as a character and Butcher as a writer (this marks the 16th Butcher novel I’ve read excluding his two shorter Dresden based stories). If anyone out there reading this started the series with this novel, or skipped over some middle books to get to this one, I would certainly appreciate a comment on your thoughts regarding the mystery aspect of the plot. Regardless of the mystery being somewhat spoiled for me I am invested enough in Harry as a character that the course the novel takes only represents a fraction of my enjoyment. How the plot effects Harry’s development as a character, his journey as an individual, is as enjoyable for me as a reader as the action and adventure of the series.

I suppose I should take some time to address the Moonlighting (i.e. the romantic/sexual tension between two lead characters, see Bones or even Psych for more current examples) like problem with the series so far. The question is, of course, would a release of that tension, in this case the Murphy/Dresden angle, remove some sort of essential ingredient to the series success? I don’t really know the answer here. On the one hand you find yourself (or at least I do) rooting for the characters to get together. They’ve been through tough times, they obviously care about one another and you can’t help but feel like they deserve some sort of happiness together. On the other hand the emotional drama created by the delicate balance of romance and friendship between Murphy and Dresden certainly adds something to the mix and I’m not sure that removing that completely wouldn’t take something away from the relationship as a whole. I don’t really have an answer to this and given the events of the novel I’m interested in seeing how Butcher handles this in the future.

Turn Coat is a solid entry in the Dresden series and, in my opinion, eclipses previous volumes with its ability to evoke hardboiled fiction and craft a complex volume-spanning plot worthy of any epic fantasy series. Why anyone who enjoys fiction, regardless of genre, isn’t reading this series I don’t know. The Dresden novel deserve every bit of mainstream attention they get and if you haven’t read any yet do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Storm Front especially with the beach reading season almost on us! If you’re a fantasy fan who loves the Dresden Files I do recommend you take the time to read the Author’s Note at the end of the novel. It’d take someone smarter than me to tell you whether the Dresden Files or the Codex Alera is the better series but both embrace elements of fun and adventure that make them an absolute joy to read. Kudos to you Mr. Butcher, on a truly amazing body of work! I look forward to the next adventures in both Chicago and Alera.

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