Death of an Englishman

by Magdalen Nabb

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

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[My comments are taken from a mailing list discussion and as such contain spoilers!]

[on the setting]

I’m about halfway through and I’m finding that Florence is coming more alive the further I read. I like the way that I don’t feel like I’m on a sightseeing tour but that it’s the accumulation of small details, like having to do removals and street cleaning in the middle of the night in order to avoid blocking the narrow streets, that are really bringing the scenery to life for me.

I also like the juxtaposition of Florence with characters like the vicar and his wife and Miss White, this kind of comparison brings out the foreignness in the setting for me.

[on the police characters, uniforms]

Generally I got confused with which police characters were which. I found the two British detectives the easiest to keep track of. I was a bit bemused as to why the Marshal was ill for most of the book when it seems that this is his series. The Marshal was the clearest of the Italian policemen to me though. I found the Captain completely forgettable and though I couldn’t forget Bacci he didn’t make a big impression on me. I guess that there are a lot of policemen in a relatively short book and they couldn’t all be fully fleshed out.

Well, I think uniforms are a useful recognition aid to know who is supposed to be directing the traffic or serving the customers or whatever but I’m not a fan of their use as status symbols and wouldn’t want to wear one myself. I don’t remember the big deal about Bacci’s uniform, it must hve gone over my head as I think quite a lot did in this book, probably because of the very fragmented way I read it.

[on the non-police characters]

First of all I had reader’s confusion syndrome with two many C’s! Cipolla, Cesarini and Cipriani were way too alike as names for me to keep them straight and I spent half the book flicking back to figure out which one was which. I think that means I didn’t find the characters well enough fleshed out.

I found the expats much simpler to keep straight than the Italians. They seemed to be both more individual than the Italians but also more stereotypical examples of the English abroad at the same time.

I didn’t have a good picture of him as he was dead before we met him and the fragments of his life we found out about didn’t seem to present a consistent picture. I thought it was odd that the British police had been sent over to help out thoough merely because he was related to someone influential. That seemed a bit odd.

I think the decision to portray the victim as a character or an object is the author’s really and the reader has to go along with it. I think I prefer books where the victim is a character but it all depends on the book.