Go to Helena Handbasket from Donna Moore is another novel in the comic crime genre and another example of comic crime at its best. This novel is also quite different as it takes you outside the comfort zone of known and expected protocols in crime fiction; the twist here is that (possibly) every one of them is thrown on its head in the best piece of satire I have read in ages.
Here, the baby is indeed thrown out with the bath water and in this case it’s a lot of laughs.
Helena Handbasket is a private eye. She has the certificates to prove it. (Bought via the internet, thus proving her stupidity as she could have created her own using Word or Powerpoint…) But our Helena is not stupid. No. Not at all. She’s just a tad distracted sometimes. She pursues her goals such as finding a hubbie, often in the wrong places and with the wrong gents (the story of many females but this time it’s happening on dangerous territory for Helena). She can rustle up a cocktail in the office or at home as she always has all the supplies at hand and the recipes in her head. Her fridge and kitchen cupboards may be constantly bare, but what’s in them could put Nigella Express to shame as Helena concocts a supper of cordon bleu credentials every time.
Following The Devil’s Feather, her previous work, the early synopsis for The Chameleon’s Shadow looked a bit too similar in theme, but the fact that war and conflict play a part is the only link, with the stories being quite different.
In The Chameleon’s Shadow, Lieutenant Charles Acland has been flown home from Iraq with a traumatic brain injury; his face is also severely disfigured. The novel explores his recovery, his coming to terms with his disfigurement and the changes in his personality. This takes place within an environment where murders of forces-linked personnel are happening and Acland becomes a prime suspect.
If there is one theme common to the novels of Minette Walters, especially of late, it is in the striking up of unusual relationships. Where Acland avoids human contact, he does manage to build up a relationship with a south east London doctor. She’s a straight talking, no nonsense woman who also happens to be a 250lb lesbian weightlifter called Jackson, living in a pub which she and her partner run. Jackson, in her own inimitable way is not about to let Acland hide, emotionally or physically, and perhaps that’s why he is drawn to her. She too, has a physical presence that draws attention in unwelcome ways and in that she can understand Acland’s predicament.
The police may suspect Acland for the murders, but they find it hard to gather the evidence to support their suspicions, even with a suspect who does nothing to help himself.
This novel is a compelling page turner from the first page. Acland may be frightening in his unpredictability, but the reader’s sympathy is caught and you want to know what will happen to him. The story is another classic example of smoke and mirrors from Walters, where she tests perception and reality during the unraveling of fact. It’s another of those "once started, must finish" psychological thriller novels that demands complete absorption.