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The Chameleon's Shadow

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Overview

When British lieutenant Charles Acland returns home from Iraq, his serious head injuries are the outward manifestation of a profound inner change: he may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or it may be, as his psychiatrist suggests, "the prolonged destruction of a personality."

Though previously well adjusted and known as an extrovert, Acland now withdraws into himself. As he begins his recovery in a dismal provincial hospital, crippled by migraines and suspicious...

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Overview

When British lieutenant Charles Acland returns home from Iraq, his serious head injuries are the outward manifestation of a profound inner change: he may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or it may be, as his psychiatrist suggests, "the prolonged destruction of a personality."

Though previously well adjusted and known as an extrovert, Acland now withdraws into himself. As he begins his recovery in a dismal provincial hospital, crippled by migraines and suspicious of his doctors, he grows uncharacteristically aggressive—particularly against women, and most particularly against his ex-fiancée. Finally, rejecting medical advice to undergo cosmetic surgery—opting, instead, to accept his disfigurement—and cutting all ties to his former life, he moves to London. There, alone and unmonitored, he sinks into a quagmire of guilt and paranoia—until an outburst of irrational, vicious anger brings him to the attention of the local police: they are investigating three recent murders, all of them apparently motivated by the kind of extreme rage that Acland has exhibited.

Now under suspicion, Acland is forced to confront the issues behind his desperate existence before it's too late: Has he always been the duplicitous chameleon that his ex-fiancée accuses him of being? Can he control this newly apparent sinister side of his personality? And why, if he truly hates women, does he in the end seek help from a woman—someone as straightforward and self-disciplined as he is unsure and seemingly out of control—to repair the damage to his mind?

In its timeliness, its psychological complexity, and its unstoppable suspense, The Chameleon's Shadow is a thriller of the first order.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Unlike the protagonist of Walters's novel, Vance may not be suffering from a split personality. Still Vance's cabinet of voices-each with its own timbre, character, accent and persona-accurately reflects the multifaceted aspect of Walters's book. Her hero, a wounded British veteran of the war in Iraq who returns home with no recollection of his service, is carefully documented through doctors' accounts and conversations with family members and others. Vance is a gifted enough mimic that one occasionally forgets that all these voices are emerging from the same throat. Some of the nuance-of British class and education, or lack thereof, as coded in the relative width or narrowness of vowels and consonants-may be lost on some American listeners, but it demonstrates Vance's expertise. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 26, 2007). (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Wounded in Iraq, Charles Acland is evacuated to London to begin a painful recovery, made worse by disfigurement, paranoia, and a desire to avoid any assistance-especially from his family and former fiancee. Though he is physically tough, Charles's mental state is less stable; he scares himself and others with bouts of rage. Charles does his best to alienate his caregivers but is forced to accept help when his aggressiveness leads to a run-in with the police, who are trying to solve a series of brutal murders. His best hopes are a butch lesbian doctor, who thinks she is a good judge of character, and a not unsympathetic detective. Walters (The Devil's Feather) is an award-winning master of suspense, and she once again keeps things taut as Charles tries to figure out what is wrong with him and why forces seem to be driving him to more violence. Charles's suspicions spread to the reader, who soon wonders if anyone is as he or she seems in this solid thriller. Strongly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ9/1/07.]
—Devon Thomas

From the Publisher
"An award-winning master of suspense...once again keeps things taut.... Strongly recommended." —-Library Journal Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307277084
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/10/2009
  • Series: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Series
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 772,757
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Minette Walters

Minette Walters is the author of thirteen novels, two novellas, and a number of short stories.

Simon Vance has recorded over four hundred audiobooks and has earned over twenty AudioFile Earphones Awards, including for his narration of Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. He is also the recipient of five coveted Audie Awards, including one for The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, and he was named an AudioFile Best Voice of 2009.

Good To Know

In our interview with Walters, she shared some fascinating facts about her interests, hobbies, and favorite ways to unwind:

"I've been married for nearly 25 years, have two sons, lead a very contented life in the wilds of Dorset with horses, chickens, dogs, sheep, and write some of the darkest psychological mysteries you'll ever read! I've been described as a woman ‘whose imagination makes her dangerous to know'!"

"I have spent a great deal of time in prison over the last 14 years -- both as a prison visitor, public speaker, and teaching assistant. While I have never used any individual's case as the basis for a book, I have learned a great deal about prisoners' backgrounds and what leads them to prison. The reasons tend to be similar -- dysfunctional family life, minimal parenting, early truanting, poor literacy levels, low self-esteem, no anger-management skills, difficulty relating to others -- and many of these issues are reflected in my novels."

"My major hobby and the way I always unwind is to decorate my house while listening to the many excellent BBC stations on the radio. As a news junkie, my favorites are Radio 4 and Radio 5 -- some of whose material can be accessed via the Internet or on the BBC World Service. Enjoy, if you can find them!"

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    1. Hometown:
      Dorchester, Dorset, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 26, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England
    1. Education:
      B.A. in French, Dunelm (Durham University), 1971
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

When Charles Acland regained consciousness, he thought he was dreaming about a visit to the dentist. Certainly, the numbness in his mouth suggested novocaine even if the rest of the fantasy was absurd. He was lying on his back, staring up at a moving ceiling, and a bell was ringing loudly behind him. An alarm? He tried to raise his head to see where it was, but a hand descended on his chest and a woman’s disembodied face loomed over him. The dentist? He watched her lips move, but couldn’t make out what she was saying over the insistent clamour of the alarm. He toyed with asking her to turn it off, but doubted that novocaine would allow his words to be understood. She wouldn’t be able to hear him anyway.

Somewhere at the back of his mind was a lurking fear that he didn’t recognize. For no reason that he understood, the closeness of the woman worried him. He’d been in this position before—flat on his back and unable to move—and there was a strong association in his mind with pain. Fleetingly, another woman, slender, dark-haired and graceful, appeared in his line of vision. There were tears in her eyes, but Acland had no idea who she was. His instinctive reaction was dislike.

His only points of reference were the alarm and the ceiling moving above his head. Neither had any meaning for him. He could have floated forever in morphine-induced detachment if increasing awareness hadn’t told him this wasn’t a dream. He started to experience sensations. A jolt as the trolley crossed a threshold. The sympathetic tightening of stretcher straps as his body shifted. A low ache at the back of his jaw. A brief stabbing pain that knifed up his neck. A puzzled realization that only one of his eyes was open.

With a sense of dread, he knew he was awake . . . with no idea who he was, where he was or what had happened to him . . .

Subsequent awakenings increased his dread. He came to understand that the ringing was inside his head. It grew more bearable with each return to consciousness, but he couldn’t hear what was said by the faces that stared down at him. Their mouths opened and closed but nothing reached him. Nor did he know if his own mouth was relaying the signals his brain was sending to it. He tried to speak of his fears, but the lack of response in the faces above him persuaded him his lips weren’t moving.

Time was meaningless. He couldn’t tell how often he drifted in and out of consciousness or how long his periods of sleep lasted. He convinced himself that days and weeks had passed since he’d been brought to this place, and a slow anger burned inside him as threads of insight began to knit together. Something cataclysmic had happened. He was in hospital. The talking heads were doctors. But they weren’t helping him and they couldn’t see that he was awake. He had a terrifying anxiety that he was in the hands of enemies—why?—or that he was trapped forever in a paralysed state that allowed him to think and reason, but left him unable to communicate.

The dark-haired woman suffocated him. He hated the smell of her and the touch of her hand on his skin. She was always there, weeping soft, round tears down her pale cheeks, but her sadness failed to move Acland. He knew intuitively that the tears were for show, not for him, and he despised her for her lack of sincerity. He felt he should recognize her. Every time he woke and watched her through a half-closed lid, a sense of familiarity swam just below the surface.

He knew his father before he knew her. Recognition of the tired-looking man who hovered at the edges of his vision came like an electric shock. In the next moment, he knew who the woman was and why her touch repulsed him. Other memories flooded back. He recalled his name. Charles Acland. His occupation. Lieutenant, British Army. His last deployment. Iraq.

He had a clear recollection, which he played over and over in his mind because it offered an explanation, of boarding an RAF Hercules on the day he left for the Middle East. He guessed the plane must have crashed on take-off, for his last memory was of buckling himself into his seat.

“Charles. Wake up, Charles.” Fingers pinched the skin on his hand. “There’s a good boy. Come on, now. Wake up.”

He opened his eye and looked at the middle-aged nurse who was bending over him. “I heard you,” he said. The words came out as a long slur but he knew he’d said them.

“You’ve had an operation and you’re now in recovery,” she told him, answering the question she thought he’d asked. Where am I? “If all goes well, you’ll be returned to your own bed this afternoon. You’re connected to a PCA pump”—she guided his left hand towards a control set—“otherwise known as patient-controlled analgesia. It allows you to be in charge of your own post-operative care. You shouldn’t need any pain relief for a while, but if you begin to feel discomfort press the white button. The morphine will help you sleep.”

He jerked his hand away immediately.

“It’s up to you,” she said easily, “but this way you can manage the pain yourself. The doses are measured and the machine overrides any attempt at self-indulgence.” She smiled cheerfully. “You won’t be on it long enough to become an addict, Charles. Trust me.”

He didn’t. He had an instant understanding that he didn’t trust any woman, although he had no idea why that should be.

The nurse held up a black plastic egg-shaped object. “I’m going to put this in your right hand. Tell me if you can feel it.”

“Yes.”

“Good man.” She placed his thumb on a button at the top. “Push that if you need me. I’ll be keeping a close eye on you, but in case of emergencies, holler. You’re a lucky fellow. If God hadn’t given you a skull like a rhinoceros, you wouldn’t have survived.”

She started to move away but Acland used his free hand to catch at her skirt. “How did it crash?”

“Say again.”

He took the words back into his throat like a ventriloquist and repeated them in slow, guttural fashion. “Khow . . . di’ . . . i’ . . .  khrash?”

“How did what crash?”

“The plane.” He tried again. “Khe khlane. I was on a khlane.”

“Don’t you remember what happened?”

He shook his head.

“OK. I’ll ask someone to explain it to you.” She patted his hand again. “But don’t worry, love. You’ve got a few wires crossed, that’s all. They’ll right themselves eventually.”

Time passed and nothing happened. The nurse returned at intervals, but her complacent smiles and inane comments annoyed him. Once or twice, he attempted to remind her that he needed explanations but, out of stupidity or bloody-mindedness, she refused to understand what he was saying. A scream was circling around his head and he found himself struggling with anger in a way that he didn’t understand. Everything, from the curtained cubicle he was lying in to the sounds from outside—muted voices, footsteps, a phone ringing—conspired to ratchet up his irritation.

Even the nurse had lost interest. He counted off the seconds between her visits. Three hundred. Four hundred. When the interval reached five hundred, he put his finger on the buzzer and kept it there. She bustled in with a stupid laugh and attempted to remove the plastic egg from his hand, but he wrestled it away from her and held it against his chest. “Fuck you.”

She had no trouble understanding that, he thought, watching her smile disappear. “I can’t turn it off if you keep your finger on it,” she said, indicating a bleeping light on a remote receiver clipped to her waistband. “You’ll have everyone in here if you don’t let go.”

“Good.”

“I’ll disconnect it,” she warned. “You’re not the only patient who’s had surgery today.” She held out her palm. “Come on, Charles. Give me a break, eh? I’ve made the call. It’s not my fault it’s taking so long. This is a National Health Service hospital, and there’s only one psychiatric consultant on call at the moment. He’ll be here before long. You have to trust me on that.”

He tried to say he didn’t need a psychiatrist. There was nothing wrong with his brain. He simply wanted to know what had happened. There were other men on the plane. Had they survived? But the concentration needed to speak the words (which were incomprehensible even to his own ears) was so intense that the woman easily deprived him of his buzzer. He swore at her again.

She checked the PCA, saw that he hadn’t used it. “Is it pain that’s making you angry?”

“No.”

She didn’t believe him. “No one expects you to be a hero, Charles. Pain-free sleep will do you more good than staying awake and becoming frustrated.” She shook her head. “You shouldn’t be this alert anyway, not after what you’ve been through.”

When the psychiatrist finally arrived, he said much the same thing. “You look brighter than I was expecting.” He introduced himself as Dr. Robert Willis and drew up a chair beside Acland’s recovery-room trolley. He was mid-fifties, thin and bespectacled, with a habit of staring into his patients’ eyes when he wasn’t consulting a computer printout of their notes, which he placed on his knees. He confirmed Acland’s name and rank, then asked him what his last memory was.

“Khetting o’ kh’ khlane.”

“In England?”

Acland stuck a thumb in the air.

Willis smiled. “Right. I think it might be better if I do the talking. We don’t want to make this painful for you . . . or for me. Give me a thumbs-up for yes and a thumbs-down for no. Let’s start with a simple question. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He watched the lieutenant’s thumb shoot up.

“Good. Do you know what happened to you?”

Acland jabbed repeatedly towards the floor. The man nodded. “Then we’ll take this slowly. Do you remember arriving in Iraq? No. Do you remember anything about Iraq?” Repeated downward jabs of the thumb. “Nothing at all? Your base? Your command? Your squad?”

Acland shook his head.

“Right. Well, I can only go by the medical and regimental reports that came with you, and the newspaper coverage that I’ve just taken off the net, but I’ll tell you as much as I know. If there’s anything you want repeated, raise your hand.”

Acland learned that he’d spent eight weeks attached to one of the U.K. military bases near Basra. He had taken command of a four-Scimitar, twelve-man reconnaissance troop whose task was to search out insurgent crossing points along the Iraq/Iran border. He and his troopers made two recce patrols, each of three weeks’ duration, which were described by his CO as “extremely successful.” Following a few days R&R, his troop was then deployed to recce ahead of a convoy on the Baghdad-to-Basra highway. As commander, Acland was in the lead Scimitar with his two most experienced troopers, Lance Corporals Barry Williams and Doug Hughes. The vehicle had been attacked by an improvised explosive device buried in a roadside culvert. The two lance corporals had died in the explosion, but Acland had been thrown clear. All three men had been recommended for decoration.

Willis turned a piece of paper towards the young lieutenant. It was a printout of a newspaper article with a banner headline saying: Our Heroes. To the side, under a photograph of him at his passing-out parade, were two portraits of smiling men, posing with their wives and children, over the caption: Devastated families mourn brave dads. His own caption read: Seriously injured but alive. “Do you recognize them, Charles? This”—he touched a face—“is Barry Williams and this is Doug Hughes.”

Acland stared at the pictures, trying to find something he remembered—a feature, a smile—but he might have been looking at strangers for all the recognition he had of them. He suppressed a surge of panic because he’d shared a Scimitar with these men on two extended recce trips and knew how close he must have grown to them. Or should have done. It didn’t make sense that he could forget his men so easily. “No.”

Perhaps Willis noticed his concern, because he told him not to worry about it. “You took a hell of a knock to the head. It’s not surprising you have holes in your memory. It’s usually just a question of time before things start to return.”

“Khow khong?”

“How long? It depends how bad your concussion is. A few days, perhaps. You won’t remember everything all at once . . . We tend to retrieve memory bit by bit, but—” He broke off as Acland shook his head.

“Khow khong”—he pointed to himself—“khere?”

“How long have you been here?”

Acland nodded.

“About thirty hours. You’re in a hospital on the outskirts of Birmingham. It’s Tuesday, 28 November. The attack happened on Friday and you arrived here early yesterday. You had a CAT scan during the afternoon and an operation this morning to plate the bones in your left cheek and above your left eye.” Willis smiled. “You’re in pretty good shape, all things considered.”

Acland raised his thumb in acknowledgement, but the conversation had done little to allay his fears or his sense of resentment. How could he forget eight weeks of his life? How could thirty hours have turned into an eternity? Why had the nurse said his wires were crossed?

What was wrong with him?

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2008

    A masterwork of psychological suspense

    In the novels of Minette Walters, you seldom know who is telling the truth, and this queasy uncertainty propels her mysteries. In 'The Chameleon's Shadow' a wounded Iraq War veteran named Charles Acland comes home with serious head injuries, a horribly disfigured face and a volatile, unpredictable rage, especially against women. After physically healing, he refuses cosmetic surgery and goes to London, where he immediately becomes a suspect in a series of brutal murders, thanks to a violent bar brawl and his occasional bouts of extreme aggression, which his ex-fiancee insists are nothing new. Is Acland's scary behavior the result of post-traumatic disorder from the war, or a symptom of what his ex-fiancee calls his chameleon-like personality? And do the two homeless people Acland befriends, one a middle-aged drunk and the other a teenage runaway, know more about the murders than they're saying? With chilling psychological acuity, Walters dissects her subjects against a backdrop of troubling current events. In the process, she's created one of the darkest thrillers of the year.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2008

    A reviewer

    Other reviewers gave the details. All I will say is read it. Great dialogue, good characters, and what else can I say?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fine psychological thriller

    On 24 Nov 2006 the convoy drives the highway that links Basra and Baghdad led by a Scimitar Reconnaissance Vehicle when roadside bombs explode. The destruction of the RV became a top DVD seller in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. However, the commander of the RV, British Army Lieutenant Charles Acland survived the blasts with facial and brain injuries everyone else inside died. Two days later the Light Dragoon Guards¿ officer is flown unconscious to Birmingham, England to begin reconstructive surgery of his disfigured face. --- Back home, Charles is filled with rage especially towards women, and rejects the facial surgery, but initially accepts the psychological treatment offered by Dr. Robert Willis. Charles is incredibly angry at his former fiancée Jen Morley who insists even before his war trauma he was a chameleon. To her he was a woman¿s man to his unit and his male friends he was a man¿s man to his mom he was the adoring son. Charles abruptly moves to London at about the same time a serial killer is murdering people. He remains reclusive and angry yet accepting. His rage at Muslims leads to a brawl in a bar with Pakistani-English and a rescue by a three hundred pound female lesbian weight lifter Dr. Jackson and the bar¿s owner Daisy, who try to help him afterward. --- This is an interesting look at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in which the medical profession is unsure of whether Charles¿ injuries changed his personality especially since Jen convinces them he hid his killer instincts behind a nice guy chameleon. Charles seems genuine and his two female saviors also, but it is the plot focused on whether he is a serial killer or not that grips readers. Although a late spin that answers the question of is he seems off kilter, fans of Minette Walters will enjoy this psychological thriller. --- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2009

    Another Original Psychological Thriller

    Charles Ackland, the main character, home from Iraq with a serious head injury, a permanent facial disfigurement, and suffering from a drastic personality change, presents the reader with a glimpse into what is an apparently very damaged mind. The author allows the reader to explore and investigate what are this now ex-soldier's character's motivations for his actions and his ominously-present anger in the resolution of this murder mystery (the murder of three gay men).

    As the story unfolds and we delve into the background of Charles Ackland's life, the author prods us to think about the various influencing factors that bring this character to take the actions he takes. Ackland's current and former life history includes some unique women characters: a very strong Lesbian (weight-lifting) doctor called Jackson, and the not so strongly-developed but very tellingly affective characters of a violent mother (who dominated Charles' childhood) and Charles' drug-addicted ex-fiancee who happens to be very chameleon-like herself.

    As far is Charles Ackland is concerned, the reader is almost "encouraged" to care for someone who comes across as highly dislikeable. Further, the author does give us pause to consider how many other soldiers might be returning from Iraq (and other places) with similar traumatic brain injuries...and how well-equipped we are to deal with that particular after-math of our "war on terror."

    The book will not disappoint.

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    Posted November 9, 2014

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    Posted November 30, 2008

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    Posted January 22, 2011

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