Sunday, September 25, 2011

Death of an Englishman: Review

Chosen originally as an "N" author for the A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Death of an Englishman by Magdalen Nabb will also come in handy for the Crime on a Europass Challenge. Nabb's debut novel features Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia of the Carabinieri. The Marshal is a Sicilian stationed in Florence, Italy and now that it is Christmas-time, he is looking forward to heading South and spending the holidays with his wife and family. However, before he can board the train a nasty bout of flu hits him (as well as a number of his fellow Carabineiri). He must get well.....and solve a murder....before he can leave Florence.

Holiday shoppers are making last-minute purchases and festive patrons spend the last few days before Christmas celebrating in the bars and trattorias. Meanwhile, in a cluttered, dirty apartment near the Pitti Palace, the body of an Englishman is found shot to death--from behind. A. Langley-Smythe seemed to be a reclusive man who didn't even mix much with his fellow ex-patriots, but fingerprints taken from the apartment reveal that there have been numerous visitors to his shabby home. And in fact, Langley-Smythe lived a quite busy life--replacing the furniture in his apartment on a regular basis and involving himself with unsavory friends and underhanded business dealings.

Nabb does an excellent job of taking her readers to Florence. She gives plenty of detail without making the reader feel like they are on a sight-seeing tour and one instantly feels at home in the city. Her style reminds me of Simenon and The Marshal reminds me of Maigret. She is all about description and character--especially the psychology and social conditions that can lead an ordinary man to murder. She is also very good at concealing the identity of the murderer...I was absolutely taken in.

One quibble, however. This is billed as the debut of Marshal Guarnaccia. And yet--while it is true that he is ultimately the one to solve the crime--he spends most of the book in bed with the flu. Having odd dreams brought on by fever. Most of the actual police work is done by The Captain and Carabiniere Bacci working with their British counterparts from Scotland Yard. One wonders how Guarnaccia managed to absorb enough details to be able to complete the case. I'd like to read another in the series just to see if we get The Marshal for a full run. Three stars for good solid story-telling.

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