Summer in the City

The Marshal and the Madwoman by Magdalen Nabb

published 1988

Summer Marshal Madwoman 1Summer Marshal Madwoman 4

The diffused yellow light of the street lamps and the sweaty warmth of the August night gave an indoor atmosphere to the tiny square which, as the Marshal’s wife had said, was little more than a widening of the road. At the tables outside Franco’s bar the men were gossiping and playing cards. Above their heads their wives leaned out of lighted windows, fanning themselves with handkerchiefs, smoking, exchanging bits of news or complaining about the humidity. Every television in every house was blaring out the same film soundtrack. Franco himself was standing in his doorway, unshaven, hands resting comfortably on his paunch. The Marshal squeezed between the tables.

‘I thought you’d be coming,’ the big barman said. ‘Come inside and sit down.’

Franco went behind the bar to get two glasses and a cold bottle from the fridge under the counter.

Summer Marshal Madwoman 3

commentary: Florence in the summer – of course the residents complain about the heat. Now, normally, writing about this book in the UK in August, I would be saying ‘but the heat sounds attractive to those of us stuck in a more northern version of summer, ie a chilly one’. But weirdly we are having positively Mediterranean heat here: we’re not used to it, but it makes a nice change. And so we’ll feel that we can sympathize with the Marshal.

Summer Marshal Madwoman 2

My friend Chrissie Poulson recommended this series of books to me (yes - her again! as last week and many other times): I had read one years ago, and liked it very much. Time to find another – Chrissie’s recommendations are always good.

Magdalen Nabb wrote her series of crime stories about Marshal Guarnaccia for 25 years from 1981; she died in 2007. I was delighted to see that her books are still in print.

They have an authentic feel, because she was born and brought up in the UK, but moved to lived Florence in 1975: she had a friend in the carabineri there who presumably helped with the details of the crime stories.

This one features a little neighbourhood in Florence, life revolving round the local bar. ‘The madwoman’ lives in a flat overlooking the square, and can be disruptive and behave oddly. The marshal first comes across her when she is dancing and shouting, half-naked, in her window.

When she is found dead, he slowly tracks down her background, the story of her life, the reason she ended up where she is, and why someone might want her out of the way.

It is beautifully done – enthralling, and touching, and very good-hearted. And very sad. The book brings alive the local community and their relationships, and also draws a lovely picture of Florence.

I will be reading more of Nabb now I have re-discovered her. Comparisons aren’t really necessary, but there is a different series of books about an Italian policeman (by an American author) that I don’t really get on with at all. I am delighted to find a replacement.

Some nice pictures of Florence, one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I thought the cover above was a particularly good one.


  1. So glad you enjoyed it, Moira. The Marshal is one of my favourite fictional policemen. Lovely photos! and yes, an excellent cover.

    1. I had forgotten what a good writer she was, and how nice the marshal is, and the way she portrays the sadnesses and kindnesses of life.

  2. Oh, this does sound good, Moira! Trust Chrissie to recommend an excellent book. The atmosphere and setting sound very well done, and it sounds like a well-done mystery, too.

    1. It was a lovely series, Margot, and one that I think you would enjoy if you ever get round to the books...

  3. I read the first in the series, and I did like it well enough to get some more of them, but have not read any more. I guess I should do that.

    1. Maybe you will get round to her sometime. I loved the good-heartedness combined with a most un-cosy aspect, it was just the kind of book I like, and I had forgotten that.

  4. More appealing than other recent offerings, but no not for me I'm afraid.

    1. You haven't got her tucked away in the tubs somewhere? You can probably manage without, even though she is very good, and more in your line that some of my recent books.


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