Luca Morenelli is an Italian café owner in London interned by the British at the outbreak of war who, about to be sent to Canada, escapes and plans to hide in Ireland until the war is over. However, he soon discovers the liberation of starting a new life with a return to his old career as a waiter in a prestigious restaurant, a new woman with no strings attached and undercover work for the Italian secret service. He even adopts a new identity as an Englishman as part of his cover. He becomes literally a new man and wills himself to forget his past, foregoing his chances to return freely to Britain or Italy.
But then, at the end of the war, when all is going well for him and he is developing a closeness to a new woman in his life, he feels impelled to return home to sort out his affairs; his marriage, his business and the large chest of valuables he had stored for his wealthy aunt for the duration of the war – what he had referred to as “Mussolini’s Chest”.
Luca gives up his new career and turns his back on a woman who offers him love to go back to England. When he returns he finds that he has been chasing a mirage; nothing is how he left it and even the chest has disappeared… Can he restore the chest and get his life back on track?
Graham Donnelly lives in Colchester. Born and raised in London, he has a professional background in government service, international banking and lecturing in economics. Graham was brought up in the Homerton area, where much of the action in the book takes place, although the area isn’t specified by name. He is descended from the Halpin family, a well-known family of hoteliers in Dublin, where the action is also located. The book is based on true events as related to Graham by his now 97-year old mother, who knew the café owner personally. He says “the sending of a chest from Italy for safe-keeping, the internment of the café owner and the eventual loss of the chest during the war are all factual.”