Magdalen Nabb was born in Lancashire in 1947 but lived in Florence, Italy, from 1975 until her death in 2007. She wrote both children's fiction and crime fiction, the latter featuring her literary creation Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia. She modeled the Marshal on a real Florentine law officer who used to keep the author up to date on crimes in the city being investigated by the Carabinieri, the national Italian police force. Critic Susanna Yager of the Sunday Telegraph once noted that "The mystery for me is why Magdalen Nabb is not better known," certainly not as well as Michael Dibdin (Aurelia Zen) and Donna Leon (Commissario Guido Brunetti).
After the first book featuring Guarnaccia appeared in 1981, it impressed Georges Simenon so much that he wrote to congratulate Nabb. After the publication of the sequel, Death of a Dutchman, he said, "Your first novel was a coup de maitre, your second is a masterpiece." That second book (she wrote 14 Guarnaccia installments in all) opens as Marshal Guarnaccia finds a jeweler dying in an apparent suicide from slashed hands and a barbiturate overdose, uttering his last words, "It wasn't her." The only witnesses to the crime are a blind man and a notoriously untruthful 91-year-old woman.
Although the case seems to be a dead end, the Marshal refuses to let it go, fighting his way through bureaucratic red tape, hordes of tourists, the soggy July heat, the secret police known as Digos and the dead Dutchman's troubled past in order to reach the truth. The dead man is known as a "Dutchman" even though his father was Dutch and his mother Italian. This neither-here-nor-there sense of belonging echoes the life of the Marshal himself, a Sicilian stationed in Florence, living at the station barracks without his wife and sons, as they care for his invalid mother back home.
Marshal, lower down the police hierarchy than a Lieutenant or Magistrate, is nonetheless a dedicated, sensitive and caring officer, not particularly articulate but with a subtle humor who patiently helps the young and inexperienced officer in charge of the case. The city and culture that is Florence becomes another character, focusing on the importance of family, place and tradition. Or as the Washington Post added, "The richest scene here, however, is Florence itself, whose intricate politics and class structure Nabb parses with precision and wit."