Q: Which author would you like to invite for dinner? And why?
A: Minette Walters. A dark edgy lady with plenty of bottle. I think she’d make fascinating company. For a start she can explain why she makes it so difficult for herself. The Chameleon’s Shadow is her twelfth novel and still she refuses to slide into the comfort zone of a creating a series. It’s a risky strategy.
Her first three novels worked brilliantly: The Ice House, The Sculptress, The Scold’s Bridle scooped the John Creasey Award for Best First Crime Novel, The Edgar Allan Poe Award and the CWA Gold Dagger respectively. All 5* reads for me and my omnibus edition one of my favourite books. Consensus suggests that the next 3 novels, The Dark Room, The Echo and The Breaker represent a dip in quality and, as a result they are sitting collecting dust on the shelves. Though I may actually like them for I detested her 2nd gold dagger winning Fox Evil and throughly enjoyed her 2002 oft-pilloried effort Disordered Minds. Her previous effort The Devil’s Feather marks the low spot in my reading of her work. So how does The Chameleon’s Shadow fare?
It’s a success. Walters has once again taken a contemporary issue and used it as a springboard into a perturbing exploration of a damaged mind. Lieutenant Charles Acland returns from Iraq badly wounded and permanently disfigured. The disfigurement is facial, so not only does he have to face rejection from the armed forces but also the horror of all who meet him. Rather than return home to his parents, he moves to London where he isolates himself. He starts to display unbridled aggression, particularly when he is touched. One incident in which he almosts kills a man brings him to the attention of the police … for there have been three “gay” murders and it looks as though the killer is motivated by extreme rage.
The portrait of Acland is successfully drawn. First his denial of the implications of his injury, then his rage at his fate at the age of 23. His withdrawal is absolute. He refuses psychiatric help and isolates himself in the capital. The shutters are down and the reader can penetrate neither his mind nor his actions.
His experiences in Iraq are brought out through his survivor’s guilt and his pre-Iraq past is brought into focus with the arrival of his ex-fiancee. 3 stages of his life and it appears 3 different personalities. Or is this a cocktail that mixes to form a murderer?
No further comment for fear of spoilers. But I’m happy to say that Walters is back on form. The mystery’s good and she’s not hitting me over the head with the social agenda. In this novel that is fused into the plot to form a coherent whole.
However, a word in the publisher’s ear. What’s the idea behind the white dustcover? Walters’s novels should be swathed in dark edgy clothing. It’s a mood thing, a warning – there’s a murky dangerous world between these covers.