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Posts Tagged ‘foreigner’s murder’

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.