When your most dogged detractor shows up at your door, half-dead, wrongfully accused, and asking for help, what would you do? If you’re Harry Dresden, you curse, take the poor bastard into your home, and you work his case. Turn Coat by Jim Butcher takes a few of the conventions used throughout the series and turns them on their ear, creating a tense who-done-it with style and sarcasm.
To elaborate on the title of this review, the “Javert” archetype is named after the eponymous character from Les Miserables. A Javert-type character follows the letter of the law because he or she feels the law is the moral high ground. A Javert-type doesn’t question the law or those who decide what counts as the law. A Javert also does not believe in redemption; as Javert sings in the musical version of Les Miserables: “Once a thief, forever a thief”.
For Harry Dresden, Donald Morgan is his Javert. As part of Harry’s backstory way back in Storm Front, it was revealed that Harry had killed Justin DuMorne, his foster father and diabolical warlock, with magic, breaking the First Law of Magic. Dresden was given a reprieve and Morgan was assigned to watch Dresden to make sure the young wizard did not return to using black magic. To Harry’s chagrin in Dead Beat, he realized that Morgan didn’t have any personal animosity for Harry. Morgan was simply a burned-out cop (albeit a wizard cop) who’d seen too many warlocks who failed to reform.
That prior antagonism gives Turn Coat a bitter sense of irony. The title of the novel refers to multiple physical and emotional turns in the series. The turn coat in the White Council is revealed and dealt with. Morgan turns a different page in his association with Harry. Someone close to Harry decides to turn from a noble path. It’s not a stretch to call this book’s climax a pyrrhic victory. The storyline’s resolved but everyone involved is left a little less whole than when the novel started.
Turn Coat finds Jim Butcher fully in charge of his lead character. Dresden feels comfortable as a character and after 11 novels he’s not slipping into a state of rote inertia. This novel’s main plotline forces Harry to accept that doing the right thing doesn’t mean liking it or really achieving a meaningful victory. Sometimes it means letting an innocent man’s name be sullied and cursed so that the larger organization can survive. Butcher treads some troubling moral ground in Turn Coat, more so than he has in previous novels. All of the novels since Death Masks have presented muddier moral dilemmas for Harry to sift through. The obvious dilemma in Turn Coat is should Harry help someone who’s done nothing but torment him over the years. The other dilemma deals with the traitor in the White Council and how justice is meted out. An observation is made that bureaucracies care more about efficiency than justice. As Harry discovers to his disappointment, for bureaucracies it’s more important to appear strong and unjust rather than weak and just.
Harry is at his most heroic and snarky here. Lasciel’s loss has passed from his mind and he’s returned to his usual acerbic self. The line “Wile E. Coyote, Suuuper Genius” had me rolling with laughter. Those moments of levity are needed for Harry and the reader both. Turn Coat brings Harry to the realization that the institutions he has served may not be worth saving.
Harry’s supporting cast turns in well-rounded appearances. Thomas continues evolving as a character, straddling the line between monster and man (much like his younger brother). Molly and Mouse both have interesting arcs in this novel, with Molly skirting the darkness she first experienced in Proven Guilty and Mouse serving as a woolly dogasaurus referee. Turn Coat continues revealing tidbits about what Mouse is and what his capabilities are. And there is Karrin Murphy, Dresden’s closest ally. From at least Blood Rites forward, Dresden and Murphy have circled each other romantically, slowly picking away at all the reasons they shouldn’t become involved. It’s what two proud people do when their emotions tell them something their intellects think is a bad idea.
I’ve yet to come across a Dresden book I dislike. Jim Butcher continues writing intriguing stories that simply beg to be experienced. Now that I’ve read Turn Coat, I realize that I’m reaching the halfway point of the series. All the best stories, the ones that settle in your mind, have an end. Turn Coat is a great standalone story but it also moves the meta-arc forward with tragic, violent motion. Sudden turbulent change is ahead, and just like in real life, that means more good people will simply be bodies on the floor.