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The Monster of Florence (Marshal Guarnaccia Investigation)by Magdalen Nabb
Synopses & Reviews
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 secondfloor
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 your 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.
‘Have you heard?’
‘Yes, I saw it in the Nazione.’
‘He left me some money and the studio. I was a bit surprised, to tell you the truth, but I confess that it comes at a time when I really need it.’
‘I’m glad for you.’ He didn’t add what he was thinking, that Landini had done little enough for his son when he was alive.
‘Well, he was never much of a father to me when he was alive.’
As had always happened, ever since their first encounter, Marco seemed to be reading his thoughts.
‘Now I can set up a studio with a friend who graduated
in architecture with me. Well, I say a friend but – once
we’ve got on our feet – we want to get married . . .’
‘Good. So what’s wrong?’
A moment’s hesitation. ‘Oh dear . . . I suppose it’s true that I only get in touch with you when I’ve got a problem to dump on you.’
‘No, no, it’s not true at all. I only said that because I can tell by your voice that you’re worried.’
‘I am. Can I come and see you? You don’t mind?’
What he’d been worried about was a painting, a seventeenth-century portrait in oils. It was not part of his father’s collection or it wouldn’t have been left in the studio. Landini had known for some time that his days were numbered and had put his affairs in order. He had gone so far as to remove the more worthy pieces of furniture from the studio his son was to inherit to his second wife’s home. And yet there was this apparently valuable painting standing on an easel in the centre of the white marble floor unexplained, inexplicable.
Then came a letter from the Florence branch of a famous London auction house followed by a visit. All very discreet. Signor Landini had discussed with them the sale of an Antonio Franchi portrait of Anna Caterina Luisa dei Gherardini and had been kind enough to leave a photograph. Naturally, in the circumstances, should the countess no longer feel inclined to sell . . .
‘The countess? They meant your mother?’
‘Exactly. My mother has nothing, Marshal, other than an old Florentine name. That’s what he married her for. My father made money, new money, but the Gherardini
name was useful to him, when he was starting out, in circles he intended to frequent. Anyway, that painting isn’t hers and if it were he’s the last person she’d allow to sell it . . .’ He hesitated, then stopped.
The Marshal had watched and waited. The boy was hiding something but no doubt it would come out eventually. He made no comment on it and his large expressionless eyes gave no sign of being aware of it.
‘My father did do quite a lot of dealing on his own account, apart from doing valuations and attributions for a fee, so there wouldn’t have been anything so odd about an unidentified painting being in the studio if they hadn’t brought my mother’s name into it . . .’
‘Are you afraid it’s stolen?’
Marco looked down, his face starting to burn. ‘Either that or it’s a forgery.’
Again the Marshal watched and waited. That wasn’t all or Marco would have relaxed. He didn’t relax.
‘Have you talked to your mother about this?’
‘No. How can I? You realize that she’d be implicated? Besides, there’s no question of its being her painting. She hated him, you know, and more than anything she hated
being financially dependent on him because he thought that gave him the right to lay down the law about everything, and he did, too.’
‘I can understand that, but what do you want to do?
What do you want me to do?’
‘I want to clear it up, without telling my mother, without the newspapers finding out. If it’s stolen I want to get it to the real owner without a real scandal – surely I can do that? I didn’t steal it and, after all, my father’s dead so they can’t prosecute him even if it does come out.’
‘Well . . . I’m not sure what would happen, it’s not my line of country. You’re safe enough since it was presented to the auction house before you inherited. But your mother, I think you should tell her –’
‘No! No . . . I can’t do that.’
‘In that case you need expert advice. I don’t know anything about paintings, stolen or otherwise, and as for forgeries –’
‘But you have a specialist group in Rome. I found that out for myself, and they are bound to know if it’s listed as stolen.’
‘And if it is? I can’t control what happens next once I’ve given them the information.’
‘Why should anything happen if I give it back?’
They can’t even touch the thing, not even return it to its owner without opening an official enquiry.’
‘But they can do it without letting it get in the papers.’
‘Maybe . . .’
‘I don’t believe my father was a thief. I mean, I don’t want to believe it; I suppose that’s nearer the truth. Even though I hated him more than my mother did.’
The way he’d hated it when his father had sat there in
that same chair that day twelve years before and offered
the Marshal money. He hated the shame of it.
‘I’ll do what I can.’
Based on a chilling true crime, The Monster of Florence follows the reopening of a cold case—a serial killer who targeted unmarried couples and terrorized Florence for two decades.
Marshal Guarnaccia's job with the carabinieri—the local Florentine police—usually involves restoring stolen handbags to grateful old ladies and lost cameras to bewildered tourists. So when he is assigned to work with the police in trying to track down a vicious serial killer, he feels out of his league. To make matters worse, the Proc he must report to is Simonetti, the same man he knows drove an innocent man to suicide several years earlier in his blind quest for a conviction. The Marshal can't let the stress of the case get to him if he wants to make sure justice is upheld.
About the Author
Magdalen Nabb was born in Lancashire and trained as a potter. In 1975, she left her old life behind and moved with her son to Florence, where she knew no one and even though she didn't speak any Italian, but where she fell in love with the local setting. Her Marshal Guarnaccia series, which has been translated into ten languages, was inspired by a real local marshal she befriended in the tiny pottery town of Montelupo Fiorentino. Nabb wrote children's fiction and crime novels until her death in 2007.
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