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Authors: Magdalen Nabb

Tags: #Mystery, #Historical

The Monster of Florence

BOOK: The Monster of Florence

Praise for Magdalen Nabb

“It takes a writer as good as Magdalen Nabb to remind us how subtle the art of the mystery can be.… Nabb has Simenon’s knack of unlocking the deeper mysteries of ordinary people’s pedestrian lives.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Neatly plotted and well written. It is a more than sparkling debut.”

—Times Literary Supplement

“A coupe de maître, as we say in French … One of the tastiest books I have read for years.”

—Georges Simenon

“A haunting thriller where past and present collide, where ambition brutalizes those who have most need of compassion and where lies are often more credible than truth.”

—Val McDermid

“Nabb’s account of the details is freshly horrifying.… The vicious, incestuous suspect is so vivid on the page that the reader feels the need of a shower after each of his many appearances.”

—Donna Leon

“First rate. Engrossing and completely satisfying. Nabb is a fine writer.”

—Frank Conroy

“Deceptively rich.… As always, Nabb wins us over with the Columbo-like Guarnaccia’s mixture of surface bumbling and subtle shrewdness.… This series will be missed by all devotees of the Italian crime novel.”

, Starred Review

“Heir to Simenon’s spare, lean prose, Nabb surpasses her stylistic mentor with a stunning, intricately plotted tale of contemporary malfeasance, wartime accommodations, and long-held Italian prejudices.”

, Starred Review

“Elegant in style and elegant of mind.”

Publishers Weekly
, Starred Review

“If you didn’t make it to Florence this summer, don’t despair. It was probably too crowded anyway—and there’s a new Marshal Guarnaccia investigation to keep you abreast of the sights, smells, tastes, and traffic problems of the great Italian city.”

—Chicago Tribune

“A keen sense of setting, character and plot.”

Chicago Sun-Times

“Guarnaccia continues to impress as the most convincingly human of modern detectives and his creator as a writer of deep and rare dimensions.… Hats off once more to strong, cogent Queen Nabb!”


“Crafted with care. A pleasure to read.”

The Times

“Nabb’s Florentine series has offered distinctive mystery novels with an elegant literate style.… Her novels glow with the warmth and charm of their Florentine setting.”

—Washington Post Book World

“Nabb’s uncanny portrayal of Florence, its pace, scents, sounds, and rhythm of its language … is so vivid.”

Boston Globe

“Has the ability to impart the tremor of someone walking over your grave.… The world of crime fiction [is] poorer for the loss of Magdalen Nabb.”

Boston Phoenix

“Nabb is formidable … an Italian reality tourists rarely glimpse.”

Houston Post

“Magdalen Nabb is so good she’s awesome.”

Philadelphia Inquirer

“Strongly recommended for readers who like sophisticated, literate mysteries in foreign settings.”

Library Journal

“Nabb’s mysteries have an amazing effect on the reader.… At times anxious, at times tranquil, always riveting and forever touching.”

Mysterious Reviews

Also by Magdalen Nabb

Death of an Englishman
Death of a Dutchman
Death in Springtime
Death in Autumn
The Marshal and the Murderer
The Marshal and the Madwoman
The Marshal’s Own Case
The Marshal Makes His Report
The Marshal at the Villa Torrini
Property of Blood
Some Bitter Taste
The Innocent
Vita Nuova

with Paolo Vagheggi

The Prosecutor

Copyright © 1996 Magdalen Nabb and 1999 Diogenes Verlag AG, Zurich

First published in the United Kingdom in 1996 by HarperCollins Publishers

All rights reserved

Published in 2013 by
Soho Press, Inc
853 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Nabb, Magdalen, 1947–2007.
The monster of Florence / Magdalen Nabb.
p cm
eISBN: 978-1-61695-325-6
1. Guarnaccia, Marshal (Fictitious character)—Fiction.
2. Police—Italy—Florence—Fiction. 3. Florence (Italy)—Fiction. I. Title.
PR6064.A18M66 2013
823′.914—dc23 2013009577


This book is a work of fiction. However, it was inspired by seven double homicides that took place between 1968 and 1985 in the area surrounding Florence. The factual details relating to these crimes are true, although the names of the victims have been changed. The depiction of the process and nature of the investigations is completely fictional. The names, characters, and incidents portrayed in the story are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


It was so dark in the cathedral square on that November Saturday evening that it seemed that it should certainly be cold. Instead of which, as the great bell in Giotto’s marble tower struck six, the shoppers scurrying below it were overheated and out of temper. Somewhere among them a small child was crying and stamping in frustration. Marshal Guarnaccia pushed his way through the crowd wishing he hadn’t been deceived into wearing an overcoat. Everything about the evening was wintry except the temperature and, having decided it was best not to go in uniform, he was now sweating profusely and regretting not only all that heavy wool on his back but his decision to walk through the centre of Florence instead of taking his car. He was always full of good intentions about getting rid of some of his excess weight and for all the good it ever did he might as well not bother.

People were climbing the marble steps towards the massive carved doors of the cathedral and Saturday evening Mass, summoned by the still tolling bell. The Marshal left the square by the narrow Via de’ Servi, not wanting to face the worse crowds and roaring traffic of the broader and busier Via Martelli. Once in the quieter street he slowed down, hoping to sweat less and thinking through his excuse for the unofficial visit he was about to make. A funny business, nothing he could do anything about officially, of course. There were experts for that sort of thing. Still, he couldn’t say no to an old friend. The lad must be thirty by now. The years went by so quickly.

Marco Landini had been about seventeen when the Marshal had
first seen him at about ten-thirty on a hot Saturday night, slumped in the open doorway of a second-floor flat in Piazzo Santo Spirito, weeping. The ambulance had just left with the overdose victim. It left quietly, no sirens going. The boy was already dead. The Marshal stood there looking down at the one lying in the doorway. Rather than weeping it would be more accurate to say that he was howling, almost like a dog. He looked in good physical shape and he was well dressed. Not a hardened addict, obviously. But then those were the days when shooting up on a Saturday night was fashionable and playing hooky from school meant a day in bed with a Walkman blaring in the ears and a trickle of blood rolling down one dangling arm. Then the streets, discos and school lavatories were strewn with hypodermics and the only parents who weren’t afraid were those as innocent as they were ignorant.

“Come on, pull yourself together,” the Marshal had said gruffly, “and get yourself home. Can you walk?”

The boy nodded and drew in his breath to block the howling.

“I’m all right. I didn’t … I mean I haven’t …”

“Get on your feet, then. Take yourself off.”

“Where are the others …?” The boy had seemed only then to start realizing his situation. He rubbed a hand over his streaked, red face like a child and stared in at the door of the flat. One small room was visible, bare except for two folding beds with stained mattresses on them and a filthy sink in one corner. Syringes, rubber tubes, and squeezed halves of lemon were scattered about the filthy speckled tiles of the floor.

“What did you expect?” the Marshal asked. “They ran when they saw the lad was dying.” It was odd enough, he added to himself, that they’d bothered to call for help.

“I called the ambulance,” the boy had said, as if in answer to his unspoken thought. “I don’t know who he was. He was their friend. Have they gone with him in the ambulance? They’ll have to tell his mother, won’t they? Oh God, just imagine … Sandro, where’s Sandro?”

“Never mind Sandro, get on your feet.”

The boy stood up and tried to tidy himself, his gaze still drawn by the empty room.

“I should find Sandro, see if he’s all right. He came here with me.”

“Well, he left without you. There are no friends in this game. I’ll be the one who has to tell the dead boy’s mother. Don’t you realize I could arrest you? The others were sharper than you are. Do me a favour and go home. And remember, it might be
mother I have to tell next time.”

He hadn’t arrested him, though he couldn’t have said why for certain. Might have done him good, though the death he’d just witnessed was probably more than enough for him. In any case, there was something disarming about the boy. He’d even given him a coffee in the bar downstairs before sending him on his way and addressing himself to the problem of the den of vice above.

The death that night was more than enough. Marco’s father, who turned out to be a well-known art historian and critic, sought out the Marshal, ostensibly to apologize and thank him. Marco himself had been the one who actually did the apologizing and thanking, after which his father sent him out of the room and tried to offer the Marshal money. The Marshal had refused and stared hard at Landini with bulging expressionless eyes. He didn’t like him.

“I don’t want anything,” he said. “I’m paid to do my job.”

“Come now, surely …”

The Marshal had got to his feet then. “Look after the boy,” he said by way of dismissal. A useless admonition as it turned out to be, because Landini no longer lived with Marco’s mother but with another woman whom he was later to marry. He still maintained his first family and in consequence felt free to make the occasional
deus ex machina
appearance and lay down the law. Such was his visit to the Carabinieri Station at Palazzo Pitti, a source of deep embarrassment to his son. Poor Marco.

The Marshal came out into Piazza Santissima Annunziata and his glance was drawn to the right where the white swaddled babies on their blue medallions were illuminated along the front of the fifteenth-century orphanage. Blessed are the orphans, as people said, free from the
plague of family problems. But Marco, and those like him, got the worst of both worlds. He crossed below the dark bulk of the equestrian statue and left the square to the right.

He hadn’t been surprised at Marco’s phone call the other day. Landini’s death had been reported in all the papers and mentioned on the television news. He’d left a considerable collection of paintings.

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