I'm just wild about Harry - one of the best gritty urban fantasy series currently going; TURN COAT proves this again
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 2 May 2009
This series just gets stronger. TURN COAT is the eleventh entry in the Dresden Files, and so the passing thought may be that this series is bordering on Wheel of Time-itis. Except that Harry Dresden hasn't even come close to wearing out his welcome. Author Jim Butcher continues to tell terrific knuckle-gnawing supernatural stories as our favorite wisecracking Chicagoan gumshoe wizard-for-hire simply gets richer as a character. And progressively more world-weary.
Harry Dresden has gained a rep for championing lost causes, but still it's a bit of a shocker when Harry's much loathed sometime parole officer, the Warden Donald Morgan, comes a-knockin', pleads for help and then collapses on his doorstep. The wounded Morgan is being hunted down by the White Council for murdering a fellow wizard and high ranking Council member, a crime Morgan insists he didn't do. Harry doesn't much like Morgan, who historically had been one of his most steadfast detractors. But something makes Harry believe that Morgan is innocent and, so, he's got his back. Even if it means that Harry has to go up against his fellow Wardens.
There are political ramifications. As Harry comes to find out, Morgan's innocence may not matter to the White Council, what with the wizards concerned with the bigger picture. Having recently forged an uneasy truce with the vampires of the Red and White Court, the Council cannot be perceived as weak. The murder of a high-ranking official has undermined the Council's facade of strength and, for the good of all, there has to be a prompt accounting. Someone has to take the fall, and all eyes have swung to Morgan.
Harry's investigation to ferret out the real killer and his simultaneous attempts to shield Morgan make up the central narrative push, but there's a sense of things building up. In Harry Dresden's already dark universe things are steadily taking a sinister downturn. One of Jim Butcher's strengths is the organic feel of his storytelling, that he doesn't stand pat with his characters. There's a sense of momentous things happening, of events shaping up for some big conflagaration somewhere down the line. I like that there seems to be a definite destination for this series, that Butcher isn't simply milling about, regurgitating the same old story. He picks up the threads of various ongoing side plots: the rumored existence of the Black Council, the continuing apprenticeship of Molly Carpenter, and the longtime traitor lurking in the White Council's midst.
The characters continue to evolve and gain even more solidity, as the reader becomes more invested in what happens to them. Harry's supporting cast continues to expand, but Butcher delivers plenty of callbacks to Harry's past adventures and offers nice moments in which we catch up with characters from previous novels. Sgt. Karrin Murphy, Harry's half-brother Thomas, Harry's apprentice Molly, and the awesomely awesome foo dog Mouse are considered members of his inner circle and so are recurring characters. But it's very cool whenever Butcher gets a chance to feature the werewolves, Waldo Butters, the bold faerie Toot-toot (who hails Harry as the "lord of pizza") and even several of the White Council high muck-a-mucks (Gatekeeper, Listens-to-Wind and Ebenezar). And even though the fantasy and action themes are handled rock solid, it's Harry's sharp interplay with his friends, foes, loved ones, and even with the peripheral characters which garners this series its emotional depth and its resonance. In particular, I savor Harry's ongoing relationships with Molly, Thomas, and Karrin Murphy. Harry himself is still a wiseacre, still stubborn, still holds fast to his beliefs, and still tends to bite off more than he can chew. But it's cool that even the senior wizards of the Council are starting to treat him with a bit more respect, even though they're still outraged by his antics. Harry has gone thru hell in the span of eleven novels and it's made him stronger as a character. I like him more than ever.
Surprisingly, there isn't much of Harry's skull familiar Bob in this one.
Harry encounters one of his most formidable foes ever in the skinwalker, a fearsome shapeshifting creature of Navajo mythology (so, naturally, Harry nicknames him "Shagnasty"). The skinwalker so frightens Harry that it initially renders him incapacitated. It's disheartening that he turns to the werewolves for help, only to learn that even the werewolves are no match for the skinwalker. The skinwalker further demonstrates its badassity by launching an assault on the White Court ruler Lara Wraith's chateau stronghold and proceeds to easily dispatch and dismantle her security forces and fellow vampires. In trying to find a solution, Harry stumbles on the Demonreach, and even though other characters in the book drop ominous hints that Demonreach is even more significant than Harry realizes, it still isn't enough against the skinwalker. But expect more from this entity in the future.
TURN COAT offers everything that's good about noirish urban fantasy. As a nod to its hardboiled gumshoe aesthetics, it even culminates with a trial and the unmasking of the mystery killer. There's the relentless pace, the breakneck action, the sizzling sorcerous throwdowns. The desperate heroics with time running out. Shifting alliances. Intertwining plot arcs. Memorable characters. And humor (I dig the running joke of Harry coming home several times only to find his house guests engaged in violent stand-offs). There are tender moments like Harry and the feisty Karrin admitting that they're each other's best friends and sad bittersweet ones (the one between Harry and Thomas is heartbreaking). There's Harry's look, seedy but steadily becoming iconic, that staff and blasting rod and black leather duster of his, gimmicked with protective charms and spells. And, above all, there's Harry Dresden working hard to spoil the bad guy' day. TURN COAT is one of the best novels in the Dresden Files. So get the thing, crack its pages open, and get engrossed for the next few hours.