In this fifth entry in the best-selling and internationally translated Camilla MacPhee series set in Ottawa, Remembrance Day celebrations get off to a dramatic start. While Camilla and her eccentric sidekick Alvin watch the parade, their dear friend Violet Parnell, a World War Two vet in her eighties, collapses from shock after the march and is taken to the hospital. "I'm terribly troubled by a dead man," she says. Has she mistaken someone in the crowd or is the sharp and crusty lady who loves her Bristol Cream and Benson & Hedges the victim of early dementia? The situation escalates when Violet slips away against doctor's orders, packs hurriedly, and leaves the country. Alvin and Camilla discover the woman's apartment ransacked, and through an assembly of clues, some of which come from wartime letters, discover that Italy is her destination. Desperate about her friend's precarious health, Camilla ignites her charge card and takes wing, rents a toy car, and is soon careering through the hills of Tuscany. Always one-step ahead in her luxury sedan, Mrs. Parnell follows a trail deeper into the hills and deeper still into the past. What they discover lead to a secret of shame and betrayal which opens old wounds and points to murder.
Maffini, often called Canada's answer to Janet Evanovich, writes this book with the more serious implications of history, but her usual droll comic perceptions and singular voice underlie every scene. Camilla's experiences with the Italian personality never fail to amuse, as do her fumblingly realistic efforts with the language as she searches for her "nonna," a buzzword guaranteed to elicit sympathy from a family-oriented society. Her descriptions of the countryside, the charming inns, taverns, and squares, are a trip in themselves from a bewildered Canadian's perspective. "Outside of the cities, it is very green, and much of it is situated on forty-five degree slopes. Imagine vineyards marching up and down. The roads are dotted with snazzy cars doing two hundred kilometres an hour. I should also mention that there are a zillion silver Opels going almost as fast. My Ka...just chugged along a little faster than a rollerblade." The poignant letters, drawn from actual family correspondence, anchor the background and provide a charming portrait of a romantic but tragic era. Maffini doles out clues on a regular basis and keeps the pages turning with a surprise around every hairpin corner. Witty, resolute, and inventive, Camilla is the ideal travel companion. Dig into a chocolate gelati, and enjoy this entertaining ride.