Magdalen Nabb, born Magdalen Nuttal on January 16, 1947, did not begin her writing career until 1981 with the publication of Death of an Englishman, the first of eleven novel-mysteries. Throughout her writing career Nabb lived just outside the Pitti Palace grounds, where she enjoyed personal access to the office of Cabinieri. Most of her work was based on true stories and the carabinieri provided valuable information and assistance to her.
Set in Florence, her key investigator Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia is a member of Italy’s military police, known as the carabinieri. In this series, Marshal Guarnaccia’s post is near the famous Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, a few blocks from the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. The Marshal is a family man who suffers with any separation from his patient wife. He loves his daily pasta and a glass of red wine despite a need to lose the usual few pounds. A bit of a reluctant character, he habitually wears sun glasses to protect his overly sensitive eyes from streaming tears. A man with a conscience, he feels compassion for the other characters, whether a victim of crime or the elderly lady in his district who has an ever-flooding basement.
In 1975, following the break-up of her marriage with James Nabb, Magdalen moved with her young son to Montelupo, a small Tuscan town near Florence known since medieval times for its pottery made from the good clay in the surrounding area. Nabb’s training in art school as a potter led her to this town. Soon after she moved into Florence where she served for several years as custodian and guide of Casa Guidi, the house where poets Robert and Elizabeth Browning had lived in the mid-1800s.
During her years at Casa Guidi, Michael Dibdin, researching one of his own mystery novels set in Italy and featuring detective Aurelio Zen, visited for a tour. When the authors met again a decade later they joked that at the time neither had introduced him or herself to the other, neither having yet achieved a reputation as a writer. Michael Dibdin, also born in the U.K. and raised in Ireland, curiously, was born in the same year as Magdalen Nabb, and died the same year she did as well.
Magdalen Nabb sent a copy of her first mystery novel to Georges Simenon, author of the famous mystery novels featuring Inspector Maigret. He responded with congratulations and praise, thus was born a friendship maintained by correspondence, which lasted until Simenon’s death. About her third novel, Death in Springtime, he wrote, “This is a novel to be savoured, even more than its two predecessors. . . . Bravissimo!” Author Antonia Fraser particularly praised Nabb’s Some Bitter Taste.
In the late 1980’s Nabb published her first of eleven Josie Smith books for children. These are set in the author’s native Lancashire, England, when main character Josie is ages five to seven. Loosely modeled on the author’s own childhood, these stories give example to the problems young children encounter in school, at home and with friends. Josie does not have a father and although many readers have written to ask what happened to her father, Nabb would not say why the dad was missing. She wanted any child without a dad to identify with Josie. Nabb’s own childhood had been marked by the very early death of her own father, followed by the death of her mother when Magdalen, middle of three girls in the family, was only 13 years old.
The author began setting aside time each year to write a book for children and in addition to the Josie series she published the very successful Enchanted Horse in 1995. The author’s proceeds from her children’s books went to Afghan refugee children for educational materials and also to Brooke Hospital, an organization that cares for the donkeys, mules and horses belonging to people whose lives sometimes depend on these animals. The organization works in many countries in the world, and Nabb first became involved with this work when many refugees were fleeing Afghanistan into Pakistan, and arriving with their animals in desperate need of attention.
Although Nabb did not ride horses in her childhood, with the first literary success she bought a horse and riding was a key pleasure, along with gardening in her life. Magdalen Nabb died on August 18, 2007, following a stroke suffered while riding her horse. Her beloved carabinieri, in full ceremonial dress, formed a guard of honor for her coffin at the funeral. Although crime mysteries may not be for the faint of heart, many of her readers have noted that it remains a mystery why books by Magdalena Nabb are not better known.