Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Chameleon's Shadow

The protagonist can't be the killer, can he?  The author can make it look like the protagonist is the killer, but when you get to the last page, it's someone else, right?  Especially with an author like Minette Walters who somehow manages to find a happy ending to particularly dark thrillers.

The Chameleon's Shadow opens with a tank driving over an IED in Iraq, killing two enlisted men and leaving their lieutenant, Charles Acland, clinging to life with severe burns and head injuries.  As Charles recovers, we suspect that his physical injuries are not the only cause of his psychological problems.  He exhibits remarkable self-control but rages at women - especially his mother and ex-fiancee - and his problems worsen after he is discharged from inpatient care.  Severe, frequent migraines and the loss of his left eye have left him unfit for military duty and he spends his days living ascetically and running as if training for an ultra-marathon.  While Charles is running through London with nothing but his rage to accompany him, the police are investigating a series of murders of gay and bisexual men.  With his blackouts and rage, Charles is a natural suspect, but is he the killer?

Walters leaves us guessing.  She relies on coincidence once - when Charles attracts the attention of the police by attacking a Pakistani man in a pub which happens to be owned by the partner of a doctor who acts as a locum for the neighborhood.  Jackson treats him during the migraine that occurs shortly after the fight, and he tells her more in 15 minutes than he told his assigned therapists in months.  A few days later, the two women take him in and he and Jackson edge towards the solution to the murders as the police approach the same conclusion from another angle.  Justice is served, and while The Chameleon's Shadow doesn't end with Walters' traditional happy ending, it's open-ended enough for the reader to believe that Lt. Acland will find some peace.

As I read The Chameleon's Shadow, I was struck by the contrast between Lt. Charles Acland and Capt. Nancy Smith, the heroine of Fox Evil.  Both are army officers from farming families, but Lt. Acland apparently entered the army to escape the failing farm while Capt. Smith looks forward to being the fourth generation to work the same successful concern.  Capt. Smith's mother used her experience as a gardener on a large estate to add a successful nursery to her husband's business; Lt. Acland's mother believes herself to be a 'lady of leisure.'  Capt. Smith is an engineer, and you get the feeling she entered the army as a way to do some good before joining her father in the family business; Lt. Acland seems to have joined the infantry to escape.  The two officers have very different military experiences, but I was fascinated by the contrast between the two characters' personalities.  Walters wrote the two books about five years apart (with three novels between them), and I wonder whether the contrast was intentional.  

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