The Chameleon's Shadow

The Chameleon's Shadow

by Minette Walters


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From the author of The Devil's Feather comes a haunting psychological thriller about a scarred Iraq war veteran whose physical trauma may reflect the inner turmoil of a killer.Somewhere in the endless, deadly desert between Basra and Baghdad, Lieutenant Charles Acland's convoy was attacked. Recovering in the hospital, Charles is crippled by migraines and suspicious of his doctors. He grows uncharacteristically aggressive, particularly against women. Rejecting cosmetic surgery, he moves to London. There 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, who are investigating three recent murders. Now under suspicion, Charles is forced to confront his issues before it's too late, but the shadowy forces working against him—or in him—could be more than he can overcome.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307277084
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/10/2009
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 835,015
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Minette Walters is the author of twelve previous novels, two novellas, and a number of short stories. Her work, which has been published in more than thirty-five countries, has received several major awards, including two Gold Daggers from the Crime Writers' Association in Great Britain and the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America. She lives in Dorset, England.


Dorchester, Dorset, England

Date of Birth:

September 26, 1949

Place of Birth:

Bishop¿s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England


B.A. in French, Dunelm (Durham University), 1971

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.”


“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.”


“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?”


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?

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

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

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The Chameleon's Shadow 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Other reviewers gave the details. All I will say is read it. Great dialogue, good characters, and what else can I say?
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
SofiaAndersson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of her better novels.
ShellyS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A new book by Walters is a treat. This one focuses on Charles Acland, a British soldier badly injured in Iraq. Back in Britain, he suffers from severe migraines and personality changes due to his head injury. He refuses plastic surgery for the badly scarred side of his face, nor does he want a false eye to replace the one he lost, preferring to wear a patch. He's suspicious of doctors and becomes agressive, especially toward women. Moving to London, he just wants to be left alone, but after getting into a violent altercation at a pub, he comes to the attention of police investigating the murders of three older, gay or bixsexual men, and a vicious attack on a fourth. When they discover Acland and the fourth victim crossed paths, he becomes their number one suspect. The only people who seem interested in helping him are a psychologist friend of his shrink at the hospital where he'd recovered, and the no-nonsense lesbian doctor who owns the pub with her partner.The odd respect and almost friendship that develops between Acland and Dr. Jackson becomes the key for Acland to prove his innocence, something he seems almost reluctant to do. This time, the psychology is more central to the story than the mystery, but Walters keeps the story moving briskly and by the end, I'd come to care a great deal for the physically and emotionally wounded Acland.
mikedraper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
British Lieutenant Charles Ackland is injured in Iraq. Hi is scared and facing extensive facial reconstructive surger. Instead of being heroic, he is self centered and bitter.His injury and disfigurement have caused him to become withdrawn.Rather than accept the surgery and hope for a normal life, he decides to live with his disfigurement in London.There, he comes under suspicion of the police when there are a number of murders that seem to be motivated by the same kind of rage that Charles is exhibiting.Did not like the subject and the main character is unlikableDo not recommend.
picardyrose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wish she'd bring this character back. I really liked him.
babyfacetiger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Confusing at first, but excellent once past the confusing bit.
chiara7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
She is a masterful writer of gritty psychological thrillers
shigaki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Plot not as complex as some of her other books. Something was missing that would have garnered it a higher rating from me.
devenish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Unlike many authors of crime fiction writing today,Minette Walters has never gone down the easy road of the 'crime series'. With every book,she has constructed a unique type of thriller inhabited with it's own cast of characters.Not all of these have been to my particular taste I must admit,but this one certainly is.We are told of Lieutenant Charles Ackland,who is serving in the army in Iraq,and who shortly after the book starts,is flown back to England,after being ambushed with his patrol,and in this ambush is terribly disfigured,both physically and mentally.The story follows him as he battles with his problems,which include both withdrawal from the world and extreme rage.At the same time we follow a succession of brutal murders,and the investigations of the police to find the killer.It is with the complex character of Charles Ackland and also with that of Jackson,a 250 pound female,who tries to help him,that the book really comes alive. Jackson,who is not only a lesbian weightlifter,but also a doctor,is a most charismatic character,and one that I hope will be used again. However I suppose with Walter's track record,she will continue to break new ground yet again with her next offering.
cajela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
British author Minette Walters is such an engaging writer: I found this almost impossible to put down. Unlike most crime fiction writers, Walters rarely repeats a character across books.This one is about Charles Acland, an Iraqi war vet flown home with major head injuries. He has amnesia, a problem with extreme rage tending to violence, and a hatred of women. So is it possible that he actually committed a string of murders without actually remembering it? Could be. Even he doesn't know.The story unfolds mostly from Acland's own point of view, with a few news articles, medical reports and emails thrown in - this is something of a trademark of Walters' style. It's gripping, a page-turner, and I certainly didn't guess the ending.
bigorangemichael on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lt Charles Auckland is wounded by a road-side bomb while serving in Iraq and upon his return home begins to suffer from what could be post-traumatic stress disoreder or the appearance of his real personality. Auckland begins to withdraw from those around him and has an angry streak. Things aren't helped when a series of murders occur around Auckland and he becomes the prime suspect in the case. But is there something more at work here? And is Auckland a chameleon, hiding parts of his personality around others and blending into each situation?These questions drive the latest novel from Minette Walters. It's more of a supsense novel, though there are elments of a mystery to it. The resolution of the mystery, while satisfying, isn't nearly as compelling or page turning as exploring the various people who come into Auckland's sphere of influence. After two off books, The Chameleon's Shadow is a return to form for Walters.
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book has the usual Minette Walters touch which means that its a good thriller and well worth the price. It is already out in pb in the UK though the 1st edition for US & Can has just reached the shelves of your local bookstore. The trade pb is still pricey at 12 pounds so my suggestion is that you are likely better off with the hc available here.The story is a little different in this novel and the thought did cross my mind that I didn't like it as much as usual. The main character is a British army officer who returns home after being severely wounded and suffering head injuries in Iraq. Half his face is blown away and he isolates himself from family and friends including his former girlfriend. As memory starts to return and due to certain circumstances he comes to the attention of the police who are investigating three "gay murders". Is Lieutenant Ackland an agressive monster and guilty and what was he like before his injury? Is there a dark side to his personality that was present before he went to Iraq? Do his present symptoms mean that he is likely to erupt in rage when he is confronted? He is helped by an unusual character, a very large, gay bodybuilder female doctor, named Jackson. She is formidable not just in size but in intelligience and kindness. It is a heady mix with quite a few medical charts reproduced with the notes of his psychiatrist during his recovery. I would comment more on the ending but I really can't say anything without spoiling the surprise.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago