Kidnap in the Florentine hills

Death in Springtime by Magdalen Nabb.

The first I’ve read, this is the third novel in Nabb’s series of police procedurals set around Florence and featuring Marshal Guarnaccia.  I was recommended this series by good blog-friend LizF who kindly sent me this one to get me started.   Nabb, who died in 2007, wrote fourteen novels in the series which started back in 1981. 

It’s March in Florence and snowing. With the unusual weather, no-one notices the abduction of two foreign language students.  One is later released with a message for the girl’s parents, but won’t talk. The carabinieri suspect the Sardinian shepherds who live in the hills above the city, most local kidnappings are down to them, but they don’t have much information to go on. Leading the case is Captain Maestrangelo and his team, working with a new Prosecutor to get the girl back alive, before the girl’s father can pay the ransom. The Captain believes they’re dealing with amateurs this time, and that the girl will die unless they get to her first.

Although the Carabinieri are structured quite differently from our police, they go about finding the missing girl in much the same way – particularly in that there’s no substitute for local knowledge.  Knowing your patch like the back of your hand, what goes on in it, and who does what is essential to their policework as the Marshal and other team members are well aware.  Of the other characters, the young Carabiniere Bacci, proves very useful as an English speaker, teasing information out of the released girl; and the new prosecutor, whom the Captain always refers to as the Substitute, is a lively sort who brings a little cheer to this rather serious novel.  The Marshal is, this time, a supporting character to the double-act of the Captain and the Substitute, but from his few appearances, you know you will like him – an older policeman with the intuition of experience. What is most surprising is the poverty that the Sardinians live in up there, no wonder the sons grow up wanting to get out of this close-knit community and choose crime as an easy route to money. 

We see little of tourists’ Florence in this novel, the city locations are mostly those of workers, as are those in the hillsides – no-one ever said a shepherd’s life was easy. The policework is thorough and solid, like the novel itself which is rather serious. We don’t learn anything about the policemen’s private lives here, it’s all about the case, unlike those of Donna Leon where Comissario Brunetti’s family co-star, and Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano where food and his girlfriend play second fiddle, along with their locations in both cases.  I am definitely interested in reading more of the series though and in particular, getting to meet the Marshal properly.  (7/10) I was given this book.

11 thoughts on “Kidnap in the Florentine hills

  1. Glad you liked it Annabel. The Guarnaccia books are quite different in tone to Donna Leon’s although you do get more of the Marshal’s private life as the series of books go on.
    Have you read Christobel Kent’s books featuring former policeman turned private eye Sandro Cellini which are also set in Florence?
    He first appears in A Florentine Revenge followed by A Time of Mourning and A Fine and Private Place and I think that there is another coming out in hardback this summer.
    I have enjoyed all her books set in Italy – they are all mysteries but the first few were stand alones.

  2. I’m keen to read more of the Nabb, and also I have the first two Christobel Kents on the shelf which I will get round to eventually!

    What I’m missing is a modern day detective based in Rome? We’ve got Florence, Venice and Sicily, and isn’t Aurelio Zen in Bologna – but no contemporary Roman – do you know of any?

  3. As I recall, Aurelio Zen tends to get around, depending on whether he is in disgrace or not but I haven’t read one of the Dibdin books for a while so don’t quote me on that!

    The only modern day detective based in Rome that I know of is David Hewson’s Nic Costa series which starts with A Season for the Dead.
    I remember starting the first one a few years ago and leaving it because I couldn’t get into it but other people, including other big name thriller writers, have raved about them, so I may have to revisit and see if I change my mind.

    I picked up a couple of Italian crime novels the other day but I’m not sure where they are set so I will have to let you know about that.

  4. I am forgetting my manners – I hope that you are feeling much better now and have forced the hay fever into submission!
    Junior daughter’s hayfever suddenly re-appeared in the middle of her GCSE English Lit last week and one of the invigilators had to go and get her some tissues which she was very embarrassed about.

    • Thanks Liz. I remember being totally miserable with hayfever during my finals – used that as an excuse for not getting a top class degree! These days it’s a lot calmer most of the time – I’m usually OK as long as I don’t rub my eyes.

      Fingers crossed for junior daughter’s exams.

  5. All done now as of Tuesday so it’s forget about it for a while and then cross fingers and pray!
    She’s pretty good at doing what she needs to though and is very motivated so I hope things will be okay!
    Thanks for the thought!

  6. Sorry you’re suffering with the hayfever.
    I’m reading Donna Leon at the moment, but I would like to read more crime fiction set in Rome. It’s frustrating that well-known Italian writers are not yet in English translation.
    Iain Pears’ art crime mystery series with art historian, Jonathan Argyll, together with the fictitious Art Crime Squad and member, Flavia di Stefano, is set in Rome with mention of Venice and Florence in some.
    Also there’s David Hewson’s Nic Costa series and Ngaio Marsh wrote When in Rome, I believe in the 60’s or early 70’s, but personally I’m not keen on her style. Hope that’s of some help.

    • Hi Linda – just popped over to your blog and your Italian house looks lovely!

      I shall have to investigate the Nic Costa series, and the Iain Pears (I knew about them, but they hadn’t registered) – BTW if you haven’t read him I’d recommend Neil Griffiths’ Saving Caravaggio – another art crime novel set in Italy which I’ve just remembered I loved reading – very much on the dark side too.

  7. Thanks for dropping by, Annabel! I’ve just thought of another and it’s by an Italian author, Luigi Guicciardi, Criminal Summer. It’s not set in Rome, but in the Appenines, which sounds promising. Apparently there are three more coming in English. In fact, I did have this on my list and is one to look out for.

  8. I’ve read a few novels by Magdalene Nabb but remember it was really hard to get hold of them at the time. I also loved Leon and Dibdin’s novels (I was going through an Italian phase then). From what I recall Aurelio Zen is originally Venetian, but he does get around. I also read a couple of David Hewson’s novels which I enjoyed too. I must hunt down some Camilleri and Kent, they sound interesting!

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