Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Droves of people come to marshal Guarnaccia’s office in the Pitti Palace to ask for help. He is doing what he can for an Albanian prostitute to keep her out of prison and get her off the streets and he wants to comfort Sarah Hirsch, a lonely and nervous woman convinced that somebody has broken into her flat. His captain wants him on the case of a minor robbery at the villa of a wealthy foreigner where he feels completely out of his depth. He is glad to turn his attention to lonely Miss Hirsch until he sees that he’s too late. Her throat has been cut.
This is the first Magdalen Nabb novel that I have read which is a sad admission really in that she passed away last August, and this was the 12th book in the series.
Her protagonist Salvatore Guarnaccia is a carabinieri, what we would call a uniformed policeman, not a detective and there is a distinctly different feel to this book as opposed to the Brunetti and Montalbano stories I have read. Guarnaccia does just seem to have things happen around him rather than investigate the crimes.
The author explained her choice in an interview on http://www.italian-mysteries.com/
I chose to write about the carabinieri because they are part of everyday life. They don’t only turn up when there’s a crime. People are likely to have a relationship with their local Marshal. In the old days, especially in the country, he would be one of the points of reference of any small town or village. The Marshal, the Magistrate, and the Priest. Some of that still lingers. People might go to him when they want help, for instance because their son or daughter is taking drugs. This still applies in a quarter like this one, which is pretty self-contained. It probably wouldn’t apply to a city like Milan. But certainly, the Marshal at Pitti, who has just retired, knows every single shopkeeper, every family, all their problems. And they go to him--the old lady who’s lost her cat, the parents who think their son is taking something, people who want their son to do his military service in the carabinieri, people who can’t find a house. So he doesn’t go out on a case starting from scratch; he goes out there with a good solid base and he’s got a better chance of getting cooperation from the public. It’s more difficult for the police who only deal with crime.
Some Bitter Taste was an easy read has some really good social comment and the strands of the plot were cleverly interwoven, but I did not connect with the marshal or the author. I think it was like someone who has read a long standing detective series and then the TV or film version does not match up to the image they had of the characters. Perhaps I could not adjust from the almost aristocratic status of Brunetti to the more mundane Guarnaccia, or did I have in my mind the quirkily interesting team working under Montalbano and this meant I was disappointed.
......"doing all the dirty jobs we Italians don't want to do"......
......"what I can't understand is why, after the 1938 race laws, any Jews who, like you, could afford to, didn't flee."
"Marshal, we are Italians, you and I".................
I certainly did not find anything original in the plot and the cast of supporting characters such as Captain Maestrangelo, carabinieri Lorenzini and the prosecutor are not as strongly written as those in Donna Leon or Andrea Camilleri.
But I know Magdalen Nabb has a big following so I will read the next book in the series The Innocent in a few weeks to see if that has a more original plot.


Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wish that my memory were a bit better or that the one Magdalen Nabb novel I read had made a bigger impression. I remember that it was set in some squalid outlying area of Florence, which was a nice touch. But other than this, I remember thinking that not much was special about the about the plot. Perhaps this is an unfair burden to place on a writer of stories set in farwawy places, that they should be vivid portrayals of their setting as well as good stories, but there you are.

I was surprised that you had not found your way to her novels until now. Perhaps you just thye King of the Two Sicilies and not, like Vittore Emanuele, the king of all Italy.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

5:00 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I too read just one Nabb and moved on. An unfairly small sample, of course, but this was at a time when the flow of first-rate stuff was swelling and I was becoming, as I am, increasingly picky. On your point about vivid settings, Peter, Nabb lived the last thirty years of her life in Florence, moving there six years before her first novel was published, so it would not be unfair to expect a greater sense of place than I found.

2:33 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Peter and Philip for your comments.
Now I know that it was not just me on a bad day. I agree the more crime fiction I read the more picky I become and expect both a sense of place and more subtlety in the plot than this book delivered.

Viva Verdi-Vitoria Emanuele Rei D'Italia

3:50 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm impressed that he has his office in the Pitti Palace.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

9:39 PM  

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