4 out of 4 stars
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At the depths of Pearl Harbor, on the morning of December 7th, 1941, Imperial Japanese Naval Lieutenant Masaharu Yokoyama and his engineer Sadamu Kamita await with bated breath aboard their midget submarine. In present day Kailua, Oahu, a skeleton is dug up in Auntie Lee’s backyard, launching not only a full blown naval investigation, but also a race against the clock to beat the media to the punch. Thus begins Chameleons by Marcus A. Nannini, a breathtaking historical fiction novel that has one foot planted firmly in the actions surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor and the other around a present day investigation that could shed new light on those very events.
One stream in the novel follows Lt. Yokoyama, an elite Japanese naval officer hand-picked to be one of the Japanese empire’s secret midget submarine commanders who will attack the United States in 1941. Upon successfully delivering a crippling blow to the USS Oklahoma, he and his engineer are unable to make it back to their rendezvous point on the submarine from which they launched. They must put into action their contingency plan: slip ashore, meet up with Japanese/American sympathisers, and blend in with the surrounding population as would a chameleon. Lt. Yokoyama is given a new identity, a new job on the island, and a new family history. When the Japanese are gathered up and placed in internment camps, he is sure that he will have the power to motivate his fellow internees to rebel against the American guards and eventually make it back to his Emperor’s navy. However, Lt. Yokoyama quickly realises that there may not be as much animosity towards their incarcerators as he would hope. In fact, he soon finds himself at a crossroads that will challenge the balance between his previous loyalties and his adopted persona.
The second, concurrent stream in the novel follows Lieutenant Commander Christopher Pastwa and his team who are investigating a skeleton that was unearthed during a routine swimming pool construction. Alarm bells immediately ring in everyone’s head when the artifacts found with the skeleton appear to be of Japanese descent and tentatively date back to the Second World War. A notebook found with the artifacts is recovered, translated, and revealed to be that of a midget submarine commander in the Imperial Japanese Navy. The logbook describes his attack on Pearl Harbor and how he and his engineer slipped ashore. Although often hypothesized, the actions of midget submarine commanders during and after the December 7th attacks never had hard evidence to back them up. To make things worse, Lieutenant Commander Pastwa’s team is on a race against the clock to verify the authenticity of these documents and their potential implications, as the local media has caught wind of the investigation. Between the media’s pilfering of Top Secret documents from the investigation and the realisation that Lt. Yokoyama may still be alive, the team rushes to tie up all the loose ends. Admiral Reardon hates loose ends.
The cornerstone of an excellent historical fiction novel is research and it is extremely evident that Marcus A. Nannini has spent countless hours researching his subject. He has gone to painstaking depths to make as many elements of his story as real as possible and has done an amazing job. His descriptions of the training undergone by the submarine commanders, the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the landscapes of Hawaii, and the conflicts later on in the book are nothing short of exemplary. I loved how this book mixed elements from both the past and the present. Either of the storylines could have made an excellent book on their own, but together they add another dimension entirely. The mix of different characters in the present day timeline is also fantastic. There is a refreshing mix of hard-working naval officers, sleazy reporters, traitorous informants, and even a pudgy Petty Officer who lends a smidge of humor (not to mention a few donuts) to the plot. The thing I enjoyed the most about this book is how the concept of loyalty is addressed. In Lt. Yokoyama’s timeline, he has some tough decisions to make on where his loyalties lie. He needs to determine how to live his life during and after his time in the Japanese internment camps. In the modern timeline, the naval investigation team needs to decide whether their loyalty lies in doing the right thing or doing their job regardless of the consequences.
The only part of this book that I had issues with was the ending. There was a lot of build up toward the end of the book and I feel that some of the major conflicts which persisted throughout the novel were resolved a bit too quickly. To be clear, I liked how it ended, but I feel that it could have contained a bit more detail and depth for it to be realistic. As well, I felt that in the last couple of chapters Mr. Nannini was introducing new and irrelevant information to the story (new characters, conflict, etc.) I realise now that this is likely as a build up for future books with the same characters, but I found myself wondering how this fit into our current storyline.
I thoroughly enjoyed Chameleons by Marcus A. Nannini and therefore have no problem giving it 4 out of 4 stars. The quality and complexity of this book, along with how much I enjoyed the subject matter, swayed me from giving it a lower score. I would particularly recommend this book to anyone that has a soft-side for historical fiction, those that enjoy military history, or those that are interested in WWII/Pearl Harbour. If historical fiction really isn’t your cup-of-tea and you have no interest in books focused around military campaigns or investigations, this book won’t be for you. Mr. Nannini’s blend of real life events, a compelling modern day mystery, and vibrant characters has resulted in a first-class novel which could easily become a lasting gem in its genre.
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