"The Chameleon's Shadow"
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JAN 26, 2008)
“He found it easier to show no emotion at all, which was a truer reflection of how he felt, for without the means to demonstrate joy or empathy, the sensations themselves seemed to have withered and died.”
As Minette Walter’s The Chameleon’s Shadow opens, twenty-six year old British Lieutenant Charles Acland and his men are patrolling the Baghdad to Basra highway in an armored reconnaissance truck. Suddenly, several roadside improvised explosive devices produce a blast that demolishes their vehicle. Charles, the sole survivor, is left with one eye and a horribly disfigured face. When he wakes up in the hospital, he has no memory of the tragedy. A psychiatrist named Dr. Robert Willis comforts the devastated soldier and tries to help him come to terms with the calamity that befell him and his men, as well as with his future as a partially blind and mutilated veteran.
Charles’s behavior in the hospital is troubling. He refuses to answer simple questions, swears at his nurses, declines the proffered pain medication, and evinces a deep-seated and generalized anger, especially towards women. Although he makes a remarkable recovery physically, he is badly scarred, and suffers from severe migraines. He is cold to his parents and seems to suffer from deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and guilt. He claims that he is indifferent to his narcissistic ex-fiancée, Jen Morley, with whom he broke up shortly before he shipped out to Iraq. Charles seems to be incapable of normal social interaction; he becomes a “self-denying ascetic” who eats little and exercises compulsively.
Meanwhile, a series of killings in London has the police baffled. Three men, all army veterans, aged fifty-eight, fifty-seven, and seventy-one, were robbed and brutally beaten to death by a frenzied attacker. Detective Superintendent Brian Jones, who heads up the investigation, and his second-in-command, Detective Inspector Nick Beale, believe that the victims knew their assailant. After Charles almost kills someone in a pub fight, he is restrained by a huge woman named Jackson, who is built like a Mack truck, with close-cropped hair, bulging muscles and biker boots. Jackson is a gay and a doctor. Her partner, Daisy, runs the pub that they both own. This formidable woman becomes Charles’s friend in spite of his prickliness and ingratitude, and in many ways, she saves his life. She not only gives him a place to stay, but also uses her own peculiar brand of “tough love” to shape him up and earn his trust. “She’s incapable of mollycoddling anyone, tells it how it is, refuses to tiptoe around prissy sensibilities, and gains respect as a result.” Later, an elderly pensioner named Walter Tutting is viciously assaulted but survives; since he had argued with Tutting earlier at an ATM machine, the police pick Charles up for questioning.
The Chameleon’s Shadow is a psychological thriller about the dark impulses that drive people to commit heinous acts. Charles Acland is deeply scarred both psychologically and physically, and he harbors deep antagonism, especially towards women. However, is he capable of killing someone in cold blood? Jackson, for one, has her doubts. Walters introduces some additional key characters, both homeless, as the story progresses: One is a sixteen-year-old runaway named Ben Russell and the other is a middle-aged drunk known as Chalky. These two individuals may know more than they’re willing to admit about the serial killer who is targeting middle aged and elderly men. The police, with Jackson’s help, do everything they can to get to the bottom of a case that is as twisted as any that they have ever seen.
Minette Walters is a gifted storyteller and she garners sympathy for the deeply wounded but uncommunicative Charles. The book falters at the end, however, when it becomes a bit too weighed down with coincidences and psychobabble. A few far-fetched twists and turns enable the author to wrap up her complicated plot a bit too neatly. In spite of its flaws, The Chameleon’s Shadow is an engrossing and affecting tale of an injured soldier’s horrendous journey to hell and back.
- Amazon readers rating: from 14 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Chameleon's Shadow at author's website
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Ice House (1992)
- The Sculptress (1993)
- The Scold's Bride (1994)
- The Dark Room (1995)
- The Echo (1997)
- The Breaker (1998)
- The Shape of Snakes (2000)
- Acid Row (2001)
- Fox Evil (2002)
- Disordered Minds (2003)
- The Tinder Box (2004)
- The Devil's Feather (2005)
- The Chameleon's Shadow (January 2008)
- Chickenfeed (2006)
(back to top)
- Official website for Minette Walters
- Wikipedia page for Minnette Walters
- Crime Time interview with Minnette Walters
- Bookbrowse interview with Minnette Walters
- Shots Online article about Minnette Walters
- Guardian Online article about Minnette Walters
- Danny Yee's review of The Shape of Snakes
- BookReporter.com review of Fox Evil
- Trashotron review of Disordered Minds
- The New York Times review of The Devil's Feather
- Curled Up review of The Chameleon's Shadow
- The Independent review of The Chameleon's Shadow
(back to top)
About the Author:
Minette Walters was born in 1949 in Bishop's Stortford. Her family moved between army bases in the north and south of England until her father died of kidney failure in 1960. She was granted a free Foundation Scholarship to the Godolphin boarding school in Salisbury. After graduation, she went to Israel for a year before attending Trevelyan College in Durham. She graduated in 1971 with a BA in French. Minette met her husband Alec Walters while she was at Durham, they married in 1978 and have two sons.
Walters joined IPC Magazines as a sub-editor in 1972 and became an editor of Woman’s Weekly Library the following year. As an early pioneer of women getting their feet on the property ladder, she took her first mortgage at 23 and supplemented her salary by writing romantic novelettes, short stories and serials in her spare time. She turned freelance in 1977 but continued to write for magazines to cover her bills.
She publisher her first novel in 1992 and she is the first crime/thriller writer to win three major prizes with her first three books.
Minnette and her husband live in an 18th Century manor house in Dorset, England.