Review of Death of a Dutchman
Magdalen Nabb is a popular British writer of mysteries. Death of a Dutchman is the second in a series of fourteen mystery novels that she wrote, preceded by Death of an Englishman, though this book has much more focus on plot than its predecessor. These both fit in well with her other mystery novels, such as Death in Springtime and Death in Autumn. An interesting point of note, the fourteenth and final novel in the series was published after Nabb’s death.
The events take place in Florence, Italy and the surrounding Tuscan countryside. Our protagonist, Marshal Guarnaccia, is currently visiting an old lady, as is his custom when making his rounds. When she says that she has been hearing noises emanating from a nearby vacant apartment, the Marshal investigates. He knocks on the door, but nobody answers, yet he clearly hears water running. The Marshal breaks down the door only to discover the tenant an inch away from death. The tenant, who we find out is a Dutch-Italian jeweler, survives just long enough to speak the words, “it wasn’t her,” and then gives up the ghost. An overdose of barbiturates caused the jeweler’s death, and although the officials in charge of the case have no doubt that it is a suicide, the Marshal is not so sure of that, so he proceeds to conduct his own quiet investigation.
The Marshal is a very likeable character, humble and unambitious. His most defining character trait is his deep compassion for others. His relationships with the people around him only serve to endear him to us, and he is absolutely devastated when he receives the news that a man from one of his stations is killed. The Marshal takes a very personal approach to everything and everyone, which is one aspect that makes this series so unique. In some ways, he is rather like Georges Simenon’s Maigret. This is not surprising, since Nabb was a big fan of Simenon, and was thrilled when he wrote her to congratulate her on her first book. Nabb met the model for the Marshal in Guadalupe.
This novel clearly fits within the tradition of detective and mystery fiction. It is undoubtedly a police procedural, as everything that needs to be known is learned through the asking of important questions and listening carefully to what people say. Additionally, Nabb does a good job of keeping the number of suspects on a manageable level, and, as previously mentioned, the novel emphasizes plot. There is a significant plot twist in the novel, but long-time readers of Agatha Christie should be able to see it coming. Admittedly, the novel is set in the third-person omniscient point of view, which is somewhat outside the tradition. Additionally, the case depends on some unique Italian legislative quirks that may be hard for some people to understand. However, overall, I think that this book is an excellent example of detective and mystery fiction.
In conclusion, I very much recommend this book. Fair warning- the pacing of the story is rather slow until you get halfway through the book, but it’s worth reading for the Marshal’s amicable personality and some insight into the Italian legal system.
Magdalennabb.com/about.html. Accessed 28 November 2017.
Nabb, Magdalen. Death of a Dutchman. Penguin Books, 1983.