Morgan has always been a major thorn in Harry Dresden's side. So of course, he appears on Harry's doorstep, half dead and convicted of murder.
But that's only one of the problems facing Jim Butchers wizard PI in the eleventh Dresden Files Book,. The aptly named "Turn Coat is half whodunnit and half magical thriller, with plenty of explosive magic, hard-nosed wizards, deadly conspiracy and plenty of grotesque monsters and vampires. What's more, Butcher pulls some brilliant plot twists out of his hat, including some that are sure to wrench the heart.
An injured Morgan turns up at Harry's door, hunted by Wardens and convicted of murdering Aleron LaFortier for the Red Court. Even worse, it's an airtight case against him.
But Harry can't bring himself to believe that Morgan could ever do something treacherous (even if Morgan is a big bottom-pain). His investigations take him on an unpleasant tightrope to vampire hangouts and the Council HQ, where he learns that LaFortier's death could -- if left unpunished -- lead to a very messy civil war between the weakened wizard factions. In other words, the Black Council is making a move.
And Harry has problems close to him as well -- a price on Morgan's head, the Binder's ectoplasmic hordes, and a chilling immortal monster of Native American legend called a naagloshii (skinwalker). When the naagloshii kidnaps Thomas and trashes the Raith mansion, Harry must find a way not only of saving his brother and Morgan from certain death -- but unveiling the traitor within the Council as well. Hard to do when everyone is very, very mad at you...
"Turn Coat" is definitely a turning point in the Dresden Files series, where the Black Council becomes a widely-known -- though not widely-acknowledged -- reality, and Butcher is clearly setting up a massive conflict. Relationships are shattered, alliances are strained, personalities are changed, a traitor is revealed and the White Council is more openly threatened by the Black Council. A few people even die.
And Butcher does a pretty brilliant job meshing together fantasy, political thrillers and Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. He fills the story with sharp dark-edged noir prose, fun dialogue ("Mission accomplished, my lord of pizza!"), and some literally explosive action scenes (including a pitched battle on a rainy magical island). But despite the dark, grim cast of the plot, Butcher doesn't forget to add some humor to the mix. Where else can you find a spell that uses Silly String?
What's more, he fleshes out the rather mysterious Council, and shows the motivations and sacrifices that it has been built on, as well as its reasons for being so strict and reclusive. The one problem is that the murderer is a bit obvious, and I expected someone a bit more... important.
Harry proves himself to be the right kind of guy simply by wanting to prove Morgan innocent, and by forging ahead with some really risky magic that even the Gatekeeper blanches at. But his quest for justice takes away some people that he cares about as well, leaving some terrible long-term repercussions for his brother Thomas. And Butcher takes great care to show that while Morgan is annoying and self-righteous, he's also strong and honorable. And once he was more like Harry.
"Turn Coat" also fleshes out the Council considerably, showing them more as real people -- the Merlin eats sandwiches, Mai is revoltingly rigid, and there are even bureaucromancers. And "Injun Joe" shows the incredible range of his power, as well as the sadness of his past. Butcher needs to show a bit more of this awesome old wizard, because he rules.
"Turn Coat" is a brilliant turning point for the Dresden Files series, as well as a painful series of lessons for Jim Butcher's wizard anti-hero. And the battle is hardly over yet.