An American journalist and author becomes captivated with Italy and decides to move there on a whim, uprooting his family and settling in a house in the countryside. Unwittingly, he’s moved in right next door to the scene of an infamous crime, and when he finds out about it, he’s drawn into the story, and ends up finding himself in the midst of political intrigues. At one point, he’s even accused of being involved in the murders.
This book is broken into two sections. The first documents the background of the case, with research by Mario Spezi, Preston’s partner. This section discusses the series of brutal crimes, the various people accused of them, and the multitude of trials and legal wranglings which surrounded them. Although people have been convicted, this section clearly casts some doubts upon those convictions, speculating that someone else may be responsible for the murders.
The murders committed by the Monster of Florence in the 1970s and 1980s were grisly, brutal, and prolific. Given my vague interest in serial killers, I’m rather susprised that I’ve never heard of this guy, since he’s right up there with Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, and a host of other lovely people who get their jollies from killing other people. While this book definitely sensationalized the case a bit, it did provide the basic facts, and an overview of the problems with the police investigation (including basic issues, like not securing crime scenes).
In the second section, we learn about the modern-day journalistic pursuit of the story. Preston even names the person that he and Spezi think is guilty, in a move which I would think would expose him to a defamation suit, but apparently I am wrong. Along the course of their investigations, the journalists butted heads with some powers that be in the police administration, and at one point, Spezi is actually accused of being the Monster of Florence.
With Preston’s intervention from overseas, Spezi is eventually released, and the case attracts a great deal of attention in Italy. Although Preston probably didn’t intend this, the most interesting thing about the book, to me, was the documentation of culture clashes between Preston and the Italians he interacts with. He obviously didn’t understand a lot about the system he was working in, and the social norms in Italy, and I think that’s probably why he ran into so much trouble while researching the case.
The book also highlighted the issue of freedom of the press in Italy, highlighting the fact that journalists in Italy are very vulnerable to abuse and censorship. For an EU country, that’s pretty damning.
The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. Published 2008, 322 pages. History/crime.