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The Marshal at the Villa Torrini by Magdalen Nabb


The Marshal at the Villa Torrini by Magdalen Nabb

When a cold wind blows for three days in Florence it is called a Tramontana, and it is very cold and windy indeed. The Florentine equivalent of our three day blow on Georgian Bay.

It is such a day when Marshal Guarnaccia is called to the Villa Torrini. Even the Marshal’s driver sometimes has difficulty finding his way around Florence, they lose their way twice on the hill behind the Belvedere Fort until they locate the address on the narrow, winding Via San Leonardo. They have been summoned by an elderly woman who lives alone at the Villa Torrini. The Signora is worried about her neighbours, a British couple, Celia and Julian Forbes. As darkness falls their lights have not come on even though the Signora knows they are at home. The Marshal is not one to ignore the words of little old ladies, and indeed he finds that Celia Forbes is dead – in the bathtub, and her husband is dead drunk in the bedroom.

Meanwhile the Marshal has been called to court to testify at the hearing of a young woman who has been accused of manslaughter. The Marshal is not happy about the new Prosecutor, and is concerned that his own nervousness will prevent him from being able to express himself coherently. His very patient wife listens to him going over and over this evidence. To make things even worse the Marshal feels that he must lose some weight - he is anxious, he is cold and he is constantly hungry.

The Marshal does not like Julian Forbes, nor, it seem, does anyone else. Celia Forbes however was well liked, and everyone wants to know the cause of her death. Was it an accident, or was it suicide - or was it murder? If it was murder, everyone suspects the husband – and he certainly does nothing to endear himself to anyone.

Celia Forbes has a daughter from an earlier marriage, Jenny, who has been attending university in England. She is called home for her mother’s funeral, and the Marshal interviews her at the home of a family friend. Jenny is a very unhappy young woman. She believes that her mother committed suicide and she believes that she knows the reason.”

As the Tramontana wreaks havoc with the usually tall and trim cypress tress, they become almost comically ramshackle at the force of the winds. But it is a very disturbed Marshal who “Outside the arched windows could see the rows of cypresses, their tops thrashing frantically.

We discover that Celia Forbes’ father had committed suicide many years earlier. Is history repeating itself? The Parish priest has doubts and shared some very wise words with Celia only days before her death.

The Marshal does not rush. He listens, he observes and he puzzles it all out in the end. The reader sometimes feels that we are on a very slow road with the plodding Marshal – and then we are at the end, the crime is solved, and often, like the Marshal we wonder how we managed it at all.

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