Nothing But the Coat

Turn Coat
Jim Butcher
ROC Press, 2009

I love to watch Jim Butcher play
But I’m afraid I have to say
He’s jumped the shark
And missed his mark
Is he really here to stay?

I like the 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, and I loved the whimsy of Harry’s potion-making (something we’ve seen little of in subsequent books).

With Turn Coat, the eleventh book in the series, however, Jim Butcher has wobbled off course.

First and foremost, he cheats on the mystery. Butcher gives us a serious 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 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 would have been fine. It isn’t, it’s about uncovering a conspiracy that has brewed up over several books. . .several books in which Straw Man never made an appearance. Cheat, Cheat! No fair.

(Oh, and the hands-on murderer is exactly who we thought it was, but they were under Straw Man’s mind-control spell, so they aren’t responsible.)

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, somebody remind me to act surprised.

In a larger sense, Butcher is having 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 spell-laden, weatherproof brown leather duster. 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 summer camp or 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.

*”straw man” is used in a generic sense here and does not refer to the gender of the character.

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