Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Posts Tagged ‘Florence’

DEATH OF AN ENGLISHMAN by Magdalen Nabb: Golden Oldies

The late Magdalen Nabb wrote thirteen mystery novels, and I confess I had not read any of them until this week.  I’d seen her books in my local library and various bookstores, but somehow I never got around to reading one.

Because Ms. Nabb’s books take place in Florence, Italy and I’ll be visiting that beautiful city this spring, I decided it was time to read one of her books, so I picked up Death of an Englishman, the first in her series featuring Marshal Guarnaccia.  I’m sorry and glad–sorry that it took me so long to discover Ms. Nabb’s writing and glad that I finally did.

It’s a few days before Christmas, and people whose homes are in other cities are leaving Florence to go to their families for the holiday.  Everyone except Marshal Guarnaccia, who’s confined to his bed in the police station with influenza instead of being able to head home to Syracuse.  Manning the station’s night shift is Carabiniere Bacci, a recruit with only two months on the job.

The phone jars Bacci awake, and a garbled voice asks for the marshal to report that an Englishman living a few streets away…well, what about him?  The caller can’t bring himself to tell anyone but Guarnaccia, but Guarnaccia is asleep with a fever, so Bacci leaves the station to investigate.

A few minutes later the phone wakes the marshal.  It’s Bacci, reporting that there’s been a murder at number fifty eight Via Maggio, so the marshal forces himself out of bed and walks unsteadily to the address.

It’s Gianpaolo Cippola, the building’s custodian, who has called about the Englishman.  Cippola’s wife had died the night before, and he’s a man in shock dealing with two deaths in two days.  The murder brings two Scotland Yard officers to Florence later that day; it turns out that the Englishman, a Mr. A. Langley-Smythe, is a member of a well-connected British family, and that family wants to make certain that “no unnecessary distress” is caused by the Italian authorities.

The city of Florence is brought to life through Ms. Nabb’s evocative descriptions.  Every sentence has meaning in this short novel; nothing is extraneous.  Even the Italians’ discovery that the Englishman had been living on the ground floor, a cause for much astonishment, means something.

The characters in Death of an Englishman are beautifully drawn.  Marshal Guarnaccia, sick with the flu and afraid that he won’t be able to get home for Christmas; the inexperienced Carabiniere Bacci, fluent enough in English to act as translator for the two Yard detectives but very much aware of his own lack of knowledge of police procedures; the voluble and eccentric elderly English woman, Miss White, who lives in the same building as the deceased and has made her apartment a shrine for the poet Walter Savage Landor; the frightened Cipolla, who wanted to report the death only to the marshal; all of them are real and believable.

Magdalen Nabb died at the age of sixty in 2007, but her admirers have continued to update her web site.  You can read more about her at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at this web site.

THE DROWNING RIVER by Christobel Kent: Book Review

I must stop reading mysteries about foreign places–my “must visit” list is getting way too long.  Now I’ve added Florence, Italy to it.

If you like the Inspector Brunetti series by Donna Leon, you’ll definitely enjoy The Drowning River.   Christobel Kent has created Sandro Cellini, a middle-aged former police detective, soft–spoken and much in love with his wife, a man with a great deal of humanity. Perhaps too much, as it was his humanity that caused his forced resignation from the Florence police.

After a child was kidnapped and found murdered, Sandro Cellini kept the child’s father informed about the suspect’s life, the suspect against whom there was not enough evidence to bring charges although the police knew he had killed the child.  Then, years later, the suspect was found murdered, and the breach of trust that Cellini had committed came to light.  He was allowed to resign so as to not blacken the reputation of the police force.  Unhappy and guilt-ridden, Cellini is at loose ends until his wife Luisa tells him his skills should be put to use as a private investigator.

Four days after he opens his office, a woman walks in and tells her story.  Her husband was found dead in the river, and the police believe it was a suicide.  Lucia Gentileschi doesn’t.  Her husband was eighty-one, considerably older than she, and had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s, but she is sure he wouldn’t have killed himself.  “Why,” asks Cellini, “are you so sure?”  Her answer is simple.  “He never would have left me behind.” But, of course, although they were married for more than forty years, she doesn’t know everything about him.

At the same time, Cellini’s wife brings him a case of a missing English girl, Ronnie Hutton, who has disappeared from her Florence apartment and the art school where she was a student.   The owner of the apartment the girl and her roommate were renting told Luisa Cellini about her disappearance, how the girl’s mother was in Dubai and couldn’t leave, and could Luisa’s husband look into the matter?  Sandro Cellini doesn’t want to, but when he sees a photo of the missing girl in the newspaper he realizes that he had actually seen her in person, from his office window, early on the day she disappeared.  So he’s already involved and has no choice but to get more involved.  And then the two cases intersect.

There are several subplots going on as well.  Luisa Cellini has found a lump on her breast, and there’s the obvious dread of what the biopsy will bring.  And Ronnie Hutton’s roommate feels the police are getting nowhere and that she should become a small part of the investigation.

There’s an amazing sense of place in The Drowning River.  The author takes you street by street, piazza by piazza, until the reader feels that she’s actually walking through the city.  That apparently is due to the fact that English Ms. Kent has spent quite a bit of time in Florence, speaks Italian, and obviously loves the city.  The novel is slow-paced, the story going back and forth between the man who drowned and the girl who disappeared.

This is definitely not your typical private eye mystery, with guns and violence, but a thoughtful look into a city and its people, both natives and visitors.

Unfortunately, Christobel Kent doesn’t have her own web site, but you can read more about her at International Noir.