by Sukey HowardApril 2008
By all accounts, Lt. Charles Acland was an extrovert, a natural leader, liked and trusted when he went into action with the British forces in Iraq. But the man we meet in the hospital he's remanded to after a serious head injury leaves him with one eye and horrific facial scarring is very different—bitter, brooding and, at times, brutal. He's the "chameleon" in Minette Walters' The Chameleon's Shadow, performed by the superb Simon Vance, who creates a unique voice and vocal persona for both principal and minor players. Walters is a master of the literary psycho-thriller genre; her novels are so layered and nuanced that the unfolding of each character is as intriguing as the suspenseful, intricately plotted whodunit angle. Released from treatment, Acland's fury at being disabled, unfit for combat, unable to cope with a humiliating affair that ended as he shipped out, leads to an ugly pub brawl and an edgy, offbeat relationship with a 250-pound, weight-lifting, avowed lesbian physician. Together this very odd couple solves a series of London murders that initially point right at Acland. May the imposing doctor and the war-ravaged wraith connect again in a future Walters work.
THE MEDICA OF SALERNO
Had she lived in our time, Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar's forensic medical training, keen, analytic mind and concern for justice might have made her a topnotch medical examiner
How ordinary people react to extraordinary circumstances is not a new idea for a book, but Tahmima Anam's beautifully imagined debut novel, A Golden Age, makes it fresh, revelatory and intensely moving. Set during the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence, its protagonist is Rehana Haque, a reserved young widow who has led a quiet life, totally devoted to her son and daughter. She's known heartbreak and loss but when we encounter her and her two children, both at university, she's managed to prevail. When the children get swept up in the independent Bangladesh fervor, Rehana, more a nurturer than a natural nationalist, rises to the occasion reluctantly. Bit by bit, sheltering her son and his comrades, letting them bury guns under the rose bushes in her Dhaka garden, caring for the wounded major who trained them to be guerillas, Rehana becomes devoted to her country, too. She didn't pick patriotic passion, it found her, and she found she could endure the atrocities of war, the misery of a refugee camp, the palpable danger of facing down the enemy and come out like her country does - worn and torn, but whole and proud. Reader Madhur Jaffrey's narration is so perfectly tuned that she needs only minor shifts of timbre to create individual identities and evoke mood.
A new, unabridged version of David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork John Adams is now available to coincide with HBO's major miniseries.