The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters

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The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Melony Sanders
Reviewed by Melony Sanders
Summary: Lieutenant Charles Acland returns from Iraq badly injured and unable to remember the previous eight weeks of his life. Could he have committed the murders that have rocked the homosexual community in London? This book starts strongly, but unfortunately does not maintain the pace throughout.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230015661

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Lieutenant Charles Acland is serving in Iraq when a roadside bomb shatters the lives of him and his colleagues. He is the lucky one - he survives, but with enduring injuries, particularly to the face. When he comes to in hospital, he realises he has lost eight weeks of his life. Things begin to come back to him slowly, but his personality seems to have been changed for good. When he is finally released from hospital, he moves to London where he lives the life of a hermit, until one day when he is involved in a fight in a bar and is rescued by an iron-pumping female doctor called Jackson. But the fight has caught the attention of the police, who are investigating the murders of several homosexuals in the area. Acland was living in the area when the first murders took place and, lo and behold, now his is back, another has occured. Is it a coincidence or does Acland have more to do with the murders than he can remember?

To any fan of crime fiction, Minette Walters is a must-read author. Her earlier books were very much of the traditional crime fiction mould - stories of murder committed in villages and enclosed spaces, where the suspects are limited. Later books though have been set in much larger areas and have involved a much larger sub-section of the population, which gives a different feel to the book. This book is one of the latter types, being set in London, which gives it an exciting feel at the beginning of the book because it is unclear where it is going. But can it sustain the pace?

When I first flicked through the book, I gave a mental groan. It is written in the form of prose (obviously), which is littered with a series of newspaper articles, reports and emails. I generally dislike this form of writing, because I find it disruptive. Minette Walters has used it in at least one other book that I can think of - The Shape of Snakes. However, as I began to read, I actually found it very effective. I really felt as if I was a detective piecing together the evidence, and, rather than being disruptive, it was beneficial to the understanding of Lieutenant Acland's situation.

Another initial negative is that the book begins in Iraq with soldiers being killed. I tend to stay well clear of books that have anything to do with any war - there is enough of it in the news without me having to read about it in fiction too. However, it really is only the first couple of pages that are set in Iraq and it really does add to the story, so I quickly overcame this reluctance.

The characterisation in this book is not the strongest that I have come across in Minette Walters' books. I was hopeful when I started, I really liked the way that we are introduced to Lieutenant Acland, who has suffered so much and still cannot remember quite what happened in the period before the accident. Unfortunately, the mystery is not sustained throughout the book and about half way through, I began to lose interest in him, except for the odd time he annoyed me because he was so deliberately cantankerous. Jackson, his saviour, is also a promising character that did not sustain my interest. She is a bit of a stereotype in that she is a butch lesbian, partner to the much more feminine Daisy, and this annoyed me a little, as did her inclination to poke her nose in where it wasn't wanted. Characters in crime fiction have a tendency to be under-developed, because the emphasis is on the story behind them; however, I still felt that both of this book's main characters could have been better developed.

The story starts off really strongly. I was immediately gripped by the idea of the lieutenant having forgotten what they had done for the previous eight weeks and the suggestion that he may be a murderer. Unfortunately, this feeling didn't last throughout the book. By about a third in, I began to lose interest, and this feeling heightened the more that I read. By the end of the book, I really wasn't that bothered what happened to any of the characters. I finished it because I don't like to leave a book unread, but I really did find the ending disappointing. The book reminds me very much of The Shape of Snakes, which I struggled to get through, but then ended powerfully. Unfortunately, this one didn't have that kick in the guts at then end.

This is not a bad book. It just didn't end on the same powerful note that it started, but I still think that any fans of Minette Walters and crime fiction in general will enjoy it to a certain extent - it isn't one of her best, but it is still better than a lot of the competition. Three personal stars from me, but three Bookbag stars.

If you enjoy this book, you will also like The Shape of Snakes by Minette Walters, A Place of Execution by Val McDermid and The Lighthouse by P D James.

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