Jim Butcher has been at this a while. His star character, Harry Dresden, has been running around Chicago solving mysteries on television, in comics, and in the flagship book series for almost a decade now. Over the course of the first ten books, Butcher has developed his entire cast, not just Dresden, and given readers a solid whodunit every time. In the background of each novel in the series is a grand metaplot, however, just as full of intrigue and mystery as each novel, but each installment so far has offered only a snippet of what was going on. Until now.
Almost as a reward for reading those first ten volumes, Butcher’s latest Dresden novel, Turn Coat, finally coughs up some answers, sort of. The main plot of this novel revolves around a traditional murder mystery/ frame-job. Harry’s long-time Nemesis, the Warden Morgan, winds up at his doorstep battered and professing innocence to a crime Harry hasn’t been informed of yet. As happens with Harry Dresden, everything goes south with a quickness. Be warned folks, here there be spoilers.
After picking up medical supplies for the fallen Morgan, Harry is attacked by a Native American Skinwalker. The monster is the stuff of legend, and kills one of Harry’s long-time allies. It is immediately apparent that Harry is more outmatched than ever, and that someone behind the scenes is pulling out the big guns to keep a secret. That secret is plainly the identity of the traitor on the Wizard White Council, a fact we’ve been building up to for a while. Of course, no one wants to believe it because the easier answer is, well, easier. In the words of Maxwell Scott, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. The world wants to cover it up, damn Morgan, and build trust and peace on the fact that the killer was caught and punished so quickly, even if it means killing an innocent man.
That said, Harry is a stickler for the truth, no matter how damning it may be. He figures out the clues, tracks down the baddies, and sets up a final showdown on a mysterious island. Butcher has managed to grow as a writer over the course of this series, and as such, there are no easy answers or solutions in this novel, but there are resolutions. Often, when dealing with metaplot concerns, much of the subtlety a writer has goes to the curb. Not so with the true masters, and Jim Butcher is a true master of his craft. The secrets flow (like why the White Council didn’t like his mom), and we find resolutions to story concerns dating all the way back to the first book, Storm Front. Morgan, the Werewolves, and even Toot, all get updates and develop as characters. Oh, there is plenty of new mystery and action in Turn Coat, to be sure, but it is all in service to a larger story.
That isn’t to say that readers new to the series won’t find something to latch on to. Butcher’s wit is as sharp as ever, and the last two hundred pages had me reading until dawn. Butcher’s talent is such that he had me wrapped around his finger, racing to see how the mess turned out, and disrupted my expectations flawlessly every time I thought I knew enough to solve the crime. Butcher’s references to other pop-culture elements are so smooth, it feels like he wrote them first. In one magical duel, two heavy hitters have a shape-changing war that simultaneously feels viscerally dangerous while reminding us of childhood loves like Disney’s Sword in the Stone.
The funny thing about this novel is that it is only the halfway point in the series. Butcher has promised some twenty-odd books. Yet, this feels so self-contained, I have no qualms recommending it to first time readers of the series. Turn Coat is a complete work of fiction unto itself, much like The Hobbit, in that it is utterly enjoyable without knowing the rest of the author’s works. Sure, there’s a lot more to this book when a reader has all the other information, but without it, this volume is still a treat to read.
Final Verdict (out of 5):