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Book review: <i>Speak Ill Of The Dead</i> by Mary Jane Maffini

Meet Camilla MacPhee, crotchety, cat-hating, legal representative for victims, who winds up representing a murder defendant. It wasn’t a bad yarn, but I only read it a week or so ago and I’ve already forgotten the particulars. It passed the time, but it has a general sense of ho-hum about it. What I do remember was that the story didn’t take itself too seriously, which is a good quality.

The story

Camilla MacPhee is the dumpy dark haired younger sibling in a beautiful, tall and blonde family, spoiled by her sisters and trying to get over the premature death of her husband Paul. She runs a legal service for victims and has a fairly comfortable life which is marred by two things: Alvin, her useless assistant; and her best friend Robin, who found the body of murdered fashion guru Mitzi Brochu and was promptly accused of her murder.

Camilla wants to get to the bottom of the puzzle, but seeing as Mitzi was one of the most hated figures of the fashion world and crucified hundreds of people in her column, she certainly isn’t short of suspects. To add to the problem, Camilla thinks that Robin knows more than she’s saying, but Robin is catatonic, heavily sedated, and under the influence of her chronically selfish supermodel sister Brooke. She’s also not talking, except to nominate Camilla as her lawyer and cat-sitter.

Luckily, Camilla has contacts. She has Conn McCracken, the police officer who can be leveraged because he is in love with one of her sisters. There’s Ted Beamish, the parole officer who seems interested in her and Robin. There is Richard Sandes, the dishy manager of the Harmony Hotel where Mitzi was found who seems VERY willing to help. And, of course, there’s Alvin, who turns out to be slightly more useful than Camilla thought originally.

Set in Ottawa during the tulip season, Camilla chases a range of dangerous suspects and the body count gets higher. Can Camilla solve this one before she’s next on the list?

The style

Speak Ill Of The Dead is written in the first person from Camilla’s point of view, and Camilla certainly has a strong voice with which to narrate. Her personality is very visible throughout the narration and the whole story is very vivid and visual, which indicates the author’s skill. Camilla is cranky, headstrong, and has strong likes and dislikes. The descriptions of the other characters through her eyes are very good also; there is the right amount of introduction but she doesn’t go overboard, and the personalities of the peripheral characters develop seemingly organically throughout the story.

The plot moves at just the right speed with just the right amounts of intrigue and action; it’s never boring and it’s easy to get through. I didn’t get quite as sucked in by the first page as I needed to and had to re-read it a couple of times, but once I was over the average beginning it was all okay.

While the story in general was fairly average, Mary Jane Maffini certainly has a way with descriptions and her tongue firmly in her cheek during the whole experience. Here is one of the more colourful descriptions, and it’s probably worth a read for the wacky similes:

“His eyes had once reminded me of chocolates. Now they were cold, hard, dark and dreadful. Like dog turds in the snow.”

Enough said.

Who is this book for?

Anyone looking for a light crime read, that doesn’t have that element of deadly seriousness that so many crime authors aspire too. It’s just a bit of harmless fun.

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This is the first novel with Camilla MacPhee, apparently there are others by the same author.

In short

Title: Speak Ill Of The Dead
Author: Mary Jane Maffini
Publisher: Rendezvous Press
ISBN: 0929141652
Year published: 1999
Pages: 299
Genre(s): Airport novel, Crime fiction
Review Type: