When Magdalen Nabb died in August 2007, she left us with a dozen pieces of delightful brain candy: the Marshal Guarnaccia crime novels.
The Marshal is a low-level law enforcement officer in Florence. He doesn’t consider himself very bright—indeed, he thinks of himself as a consummate bumbler—but that’s precisely his strength, his lack of ego. Because he doesn’t jump to conclusions, as do his superiors who warrant their own intelligence, the Marshal is able to ask the questions that crack the case.
In Death of a Dutchman, the second Guarnaccia novel, a Dutch jewel dealer turns up dead in a flat in Florence. The Marshal’s superiors write the death off as an obvious suicide, but there’s nothing obvious about the case to the Marshal. To the contrary, he wonders at all the loose ends and partial clues that point not to suicide but to murder.
And who is the mysterious woman last seen with the Dutchman? As the Marshal follows this woman around the city of Florence, we are wrapped in what Nabb does best: drawing characters out of everything, people, buildings, parks. With a few deft strokes, she brings the city and its throng of people alive.
It’s a hot and muggy summer in Florence, and the twists of the case build as the Marshal pursues the woman through the twisting allies and crowded plazas. As a thunderstorm gathers on the surrounding hillside, illumination dawns on the Marshal, and the psychological depravity of the murder case cracks open.
Nabb’s lean and elegant prose doesn’t rely on flash and bling for excitement. She told stories the old fashioned way, by constructing an intricate plot and then letting it tighten its noose around the reader’s neck as the pages turn. Originally published in 1982, Death of a Dutchman has long been out of print. Kudos to Soho Crime for bringing back the series. Anyone who enjoys a sophisticated, literary crime story will love Nabb’s Marshal Guarnaccia series.