Chameleons

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 14 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

I chose this book because of the premise and synopsis. The story itself is extremely interesting and Mr. Nannini has related it with great detail . There is some layering missing from the characters so the book seems a little unbalanced. I wanted the characters to be more dimensional and distinguishable one from the other, which would have made their actions and reactions more relateable. I appreciate the detail with which Mr. Nannini sets the scenes and the obvious historical facts, they contributed to an entertaining read.
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A historical fiction novel, blending real events with historical figures and a believable what-if scenario.

Summary
The novel is set in Oahu, in Hawaii, near the site of Pearl Harbour. It opens with the attack by the Japanese mini-subs on the Oklahoma, in Pearl Harbour, on December 7th 1941, and is from the perspective of Lieutenant Masaharu Yokoyama, the commander of the mini-sub. 

We then move to the present-day, where excavation work for a swimming pool unearths a shocking find – a skeleton, complete with locked metal box, a notebook with Japanese-language entries, a gun and a sword. Once the box is confirmed as belonging to the Imperial Japanese Navy, the local law hands the case over to the US Navy. Once translated, the log details the preparations around the attack on Pearl Harbour, and how the sub-mariners escaped ashore afterwards. Immediately classified Top-Secret, it is however leaked to the media.

This kicks off a novel that sees a race between the Naval authorities, who need to ascertain the truth of the events behind the body, and the local press looking to sensationalise the find.

Main Characters:
Lt Yokoyama: Commander of the mini-sub, a highly-trained multi-lingual Samurai warrior, and a follower of the Buddhist tradition.

Lt Commander Christopher Pastwa: Naval officer assigned to discover the origin of the skeleton.

Lt Karen Yamura:  Pastwa’s girlfriend, and an eminent detective in her own right, heading up the forensic lab that analyses the skeleton’s remains, clothing, etc.

Minor Characters
Gary Kida: Grandson of Yokoyama, whose main role is to hear the story his grandfather relays to him.

Admiral Reardon: The boss of Yamura and Pastwa, he drives the pair to have “no loose ends” to the story, and to stop it from becoming a scandal.

Plot:
There are two main perspectives from which the story is given.

The first is that of Lt Yokoyama, and we flit between the present where he follows the sensationalised version of the investigation as it unfolds in the newspaper, and his reminisces of the past, as he reveals his true self to his respectful grandson, over the course of a few days.

Graduating in 1939 from Eta Jima (IJN equivalent of Annapolis), this elite sailor is tapped to be part of the initial attack operation on Pearl Harbour. Through his reminiscing, we encounter some of the famous names in Japanese history, e.g. Admiral Yamamoto.
We follow his training until he reaches Pearl Harbour, and the attack, then how he and his co-mariner Kamita ended up being stranded on Oahu (Kamita’s skeleton was the one found).

Now known as Ken Kida, and equipped with a complete backstory from local well-organised sympathisers, we follow him through the infamous internment of Japanese-Americans, his volunteering as part of the Nisei army to wage war against the Germans, and his various heroics in WWII and the Korean War that followed. He built a large and successful air conditioning business, and eventually retired, having married and had eight children. Over the course of his narrative, we see the young sailor open his eyes to the nature of his new countrymen, and “borrows their battlefield”, as he begins to develop true loyalty to the US. We also see his stoic, Buddhist temperament emerge, and the strength it gives him.

The second viewpoint is that of Pastwa, an ambitious naval officer tasked with solving the mystery. Through diligent detective legwork, and an ample supply of do-nuts, he and Yamura find their man, only to be faced with a huge moral and ethical dilemma.

What I Liked
•	How the concept of loyalty played out – by the Japanese protagonist first towards his country, then his fellow US soldiers, and by the main US characters, towards the dilemma they faced at the end.
•	The level of research that Nannini undertook to make the novel very real
•	The style was easy to read, and the flipping between viewpoints was well-managed, and did not get in the way of the story.


What I Didn’t Like
•	The overly formal language used between the Japanese characters, who would be seen as friends/peers, made them seem very stiff.
•	There were some new, shady characters revealed in the final chapter or so, which was a little unnecessary. The author is obviously looking at a series with these US Naval protagonists, but I could not see the link to warrant their introduction. It was a loose end!
•	I felt the tension levels, e.g. within the sub before the attack, could have been better. While the characters were nervous, I would have expected more fear (around messing up as well as of the attack), or other such emotion.

Overall
This is a very good read, particularly if you like historical fiction. It has a nice blend of fiction, is based on soundly-researched true events, and has a decent mystery-cum-thriller storyline along with it. The main characters could do with some more development, though that may come as the series progresses. Some of the lesser characters were a bit one-dimensional.

I definitely would recommend this book. It is enjoyable, has a satisfying pace to it, and should pique the curiosity to find out more. 

Acknowledgements:
Thank you to NetGalley and the author, for a free copy of this book, in return for an honest and objective review.
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Marcus Nannini has a wonderful knowledge of WWII history. It is obvious that he is familiar with the times and cultures in which his story is set. He provides wonderful detail and historic information which informs and interests the reader.  I have no doubt Nannini has done extensive research and is well informed as to this particular bit of US and Japanese history.

The style in which the story is written is less appealing.  The feel is more of a first-time fiction writer in need of a good editor.  The story bumps along, not making a lot of sense with no explanation provided.  Early in the story, the discovery of a long-dead body provides an enticing opening.  Surprisingly, both the police officers initially summoned and the Navy forensics team who take over the excavation and investigation completely fail to notice that something has been removed from the grave.  With no explanation and no indication of any sort how such a discovery of a corpse from decades before could be of any kind of security issue, one of the lead characters begins declaring everything “top secret” and “your eyes only”.  It made no sense.  This is not to say the telling is not accurate, simply that it did not provide enough support to make it understandable.  As a truth based historical fiction, the lack of this type of detail distracts from the story. 

The writing style for me was difficult to ignore.  The blatant lack of explanation of motivation for actions taken by characters was distracting and confusing.  While the historic knowledge was evident it was not enough of a compelling addition to make the story enjoyable.
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