Thursday, November 16, 2006


Author: Richard Haines
Publisher: Beaufort Books
ISBN: 978-0-8253-0510-8

Jon Phillips is a smart, handsome, successful Wall Street trader with a plan to get rich quickly and retire before the age of 40. The plan is bold, risky and illegal. When it fails in a spectacular manner, Jon is publicly disgraced, unemployed and racing around the world to stay alive. It turns out that a sizeable chunk of the money Jon lost belonged to the Russian mob. They want their money returned, or, in lieu of cash, Jon's life. Jon's race for survival takes him from New York, to England and Australia. As he runs, he encounters friends and enemies and confronts disturbing truths about the man he has become. Can he outwit his pursuers and survive? And if survives, can he salvage anything worthwhile from the shambles of his life? These two questions lie at the heart of Jon's story.

Chameleon is a fast-paced adventure that grips the reader's attention quickly and never lets go. Hains draws on his inside knowledge of high finance to create his main character and set the scene for that character's downfall. He describes the physical, social and psychological atmosphere of the trading floor exceptionally well and his descriptions of the social and geographical features of New York, England and Australia are similarly well done. He has a nice knack for setting his scenes and helping the reader see what he sees.

The book's main character, Jon Phillips, is charming and egotistical, engaging and infuriating, affectionate and selfish. He is a full-bodied, complex character who elicits both the reader's sympathy and distrust. Jon may be a good drinking buddy, but he's not the guy you'd want your sister to marry. The principal secondary characters, Victoria and Penny, are less intriguing but still likeable. Unfortunately, however, the villains are relentlessly evil and boring.

Chameleon's plot is fairly believable, but there are some significant difficulties. Given Jon's life of ease and affluence, his abilities to facilely change identities and readily disappear are inexplicable. His uncanny aptitudes for repeatedly outwitting and outfighting tough, hardcore criminals are similarly suspicious. And his remorseless brutality in dispatching his enemies is disconcerting. At points, Jon seems to be Wall Street's James Bond: running and hiding where he wishes, maiming and killing as needed, and bedding beautiful women at will. And, like Bond, he always emerges victorious and, usually, unscathed.

Hains expounds on Jon's adventures much more successfully than his introspection. Jon's moments of self-examination are rare, brief and superficial. One can't help wondering why Hains bothered developing this aspect of his character at all. Perhaps he should have just written a straightforward adventure story with a larger-than-life hero and left it at that. Nevertheless, Chameleon is a fairly good first novel. Readers who like thrillers probably will enjoy Chameleon.

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