The Chameleon’s Shadow by Minette Walters

March 26, 2008 at 2:19 am (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

mystery-scene-mag.jpg In the Winter 2008 issue of Mystery Scene Magazine, Minette Walters states that her novels begin with characters rather than plots. She elaborates: “They have integrity as characters and therefore any obstacle or crisis that they may face, they will only deal with in one particular way. The story generates itself this way. In the beginning, there is a simple idea, which I can build upon.” Thus, her novelist’s imagination is spurred by the mystery of who people are. How they act and react to situations that either they themselves create or that impinge upon them from the outside world is a direct consequence of their complex identities.

chameleon.jpg And thus it is that in The Chameleon’s Shadow, we meet two exceptionally memorable and unique individuals: Lt. Charles Acland and his physician and friend, Jackson. As the novel opens, Acland and two of his subordinates in the Light Dragoon Guards are leading a convoy of armored vehicles along the highway that connects Basra to Baghdad. Suddenly, powerful roadside bombs explode. Their combined force is so tremendous that the Scimitar reconnaissance vehicle carrying Acland and his men is flung into the air before bursting into flames. Charles’s men are killed; he sustains terrible injuries to his head and face.

When we next encounter Charles, he is in a hospital facing multiple surgeries. The novel’s main concern is with his chances for a full recovery and a normal life. Generally speaking, the odds are in his favor. Unfortunately, one side of his face has been severely disfigured. A major question concerns how he will deal with this new reality when he meets the outside world.

Not long after his release from the hospital, Charles encounters Jackson. She’s not actually his doctor; they meet at a pub, the Bell, where Charles has attacked another customer in a rage. Among his other phobias, he cannot bear to be touched. Jackson breaks up the fracas and provides short term care for Charles.

Jackson is one of the most unusual characters I’ve encountered in my years of devouring crime fiction. She’s a big woman getting bigger – not because she overeats but because she is a bodybuilder! She lives with her lover Daisy, who actually runs The Bell. Jackson has a very tough exterior, but she is actually a very caring, compassionate person, with the true heart of a healer that one always wishes to find when dealing with medical professionals.

I know I’m having a great reading experience when I’ve gotten half way through a novel before noticing how much I’ve read. I’ve become so engrossed in the tale that I’m not keeping track of the page count. I usually have this experience when characters have taken root in my imagination and I’m dying to know what fate holds in store for them. This definitely happened as I was reading The Chameleon’s Shadow. I really cared deeply about Charles Acland; he seemed so alone in the world, and he’d sustained such a grievous injury, not just to his body but to his spirit as well.

There were lots of fascinating conversations in this book. I felt it a privilege to observe thoughtful, intelligent individuals trying to work through their difficulties, deal with their anguish, and do right by their fellow human beings. A most unusual and compelling thriller.

minette_walters_s07_1.jpg ice-house.jpg sculptress.jpg Minette Walters burst on the crime writing scene in 1992 with The Ice House; she’s consistently produced superior work ever since that auspicious debut. Her second novel, The Sculptress. won The Edgar for Best Novel in 1994. Both these novels were filmed for television. I particularly recommend The Ice House, which stars Kitty Aldridge, Penny Downie, Frances Barber, Corin Redgrave, and a pre-007 – and very sexy – Daniel Craig. ice-house-film.jpg

3 Comments

  1. The Art of the Mystery, Part One « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Ripley’s choice for Best of 2007 was The Chameleon’s Shadow by Minette Walters. It was one of mine as well.  Here is the author on the cover of yet another excellent mystery […]

  2. Books to talk about – a personal view « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Manuscript and The Professional – Robert B. Parker The Remains of an Altar – Phil Rickman The Chameleon’s Shadow – Minette Walters The Way Some People Die and The Zebra-Striped Hearse – Ross MacDonald Cold in […]

  3. A Tale of Two Book Discussions; or, a ‘Dragon Tattoo’ immersion experience « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] alternates between toughness and vulnerability – remind you of anyone? I would also suggest The Chameleon’s Shadow by Minette Walters. This provocative work features as a main character a female doctor who […]

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