Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Monster of Florence

Although Douglas Preston continually reminds the reader of The Monster of Florence that he is a bestselling mystery writer, Monster is my first Preston experience.

The author impulsively moved with his family to Florence where he met a journalist named Mario Spezi. The two collaborated on this non-fiction piece, which is an account of a serial killer that preys on young lovers in Tuscany. The killer approaches the couples as they make love in parked cars, shoots them, then mutilates the females’ bodies.

The book is divided into two sections. The first recounts the actual murders; the second describes the authors’ involvement in the case and the spectacularly bad police work performed by the Italian government.

I made the mistake of reading the first half on Sunday night. I don’t normally read mysteries—particularly mysteries based on true stories—and I was absolutely terrified. I can’t remember the last time I felt so scared reading a book. The writing is not sensational or gratuitous. Indeed, it is the matter-of-fact tone that makes the story so scary, not to mention that truth is always more frightening than fiction.

Either the second half is a letdown or I am simply more rational during the daytime, but once the story shifts gears to focus on Preston and Spezi, it loses steam.

According to the story, the Italians investigating and prosecuting the case are not only inept, but they thrive on conspiracies, lies, and outrageous theories. They ignore the evidence (or in some cases plant it) to accuse, and sometimes even convict, dozens of innocent people. They fabricate a sensational story about black magic and human sacrifice to explain the murders and even investigate Preston and Spezi because of their interest in the case.

If this book is to be believed, Italian law enforcement is downright terrifying. More upsetting, though, is that the case has never been resolved. Preston and Spezi suggest a suspect, but they never explain why the killings suddenly stop although the suspect continues to live in the area. I wanted a nice, wrapped-up ending, but unfortunately that isn’t what happens in real life.


notaconnoisseur said...

So is Preston still living in Italy or did he decide that after police harassment he was taking his family back home? Not to mention living in the same area with someone he accussed of brutal murders.

Blogger said...

He no longer lives in Italy. In fact, for a time he was barred from entering the country. I think you would enjoy the book considering your interest in Donna Leon.