100 Books in a Year: #64 The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
I’m a damn sucker for non-fiction accounts of murders. I never really went full hog into the True Crime section, but every time I read about a serial killer, or about a crime syndicate, I simply adore it. So when one of my guilty pleasure horror writers wrote of an Italian serial killer, and how he got embroiled into the insanity, I knew it was a book I was going to have to pick up.
Douglas Preston is half of the Preston-Child doubleteam that brought you the glorious Agent Pendergast, the wily FBI agent who haunts the pages of their excellent series. Preston and Child often mix their characters from other novels into later works, and Pendergast started as a minor figure only to emerge later as the major character. It was something that was fated to happen with this book as well.
Through the 70s and into the 80s, the lavish hillsides of Florence were the scene of a grisly serial killer who preyed on couples fornicating in the countryside. The killer would approach the cars, and fire a .22 through the window, emptying the entire clip into both victims. He would then drag the female victim from the car, disrobe her, and then remove her sex organs, leaving her in a grisly tableau. The incidents, and resulting investigation, became fodder for Thomas Harris when he was writing Hannibal. The Monster of Florence, as he was dubbed by the local media, was supposedly responsible for eight couples meeting a gruesome end. I say supposedly, because while the investigation lasted upwards of 20 some years — argued through books published by investigators and judges who presided over the case, on television programs, and through international media — it was never officially closed.
The book itself is an indictment of the way the case was handled, through the eyes of Mario Spezi, a passionate Italian journalist who famously covered the murders, investigating angles in the media when the bumbling police were off chasing crazy leads. It details the corruption of the Italian police and judicial system, how easily the media was used as a sounding board and a tool by everyone. Many people were hauled in on accusations of being the Monster, and families, careers, and towns were torn apart. Where the books gets thoroughly horrifying is when Spezi uses his media savvy to try to tear apart the most recent investigation by an arrogant police official, and is himself accused of being the Monster of Florence. Preston and his family also become part of the case, when Preston is accused of being an accomplice as the dogged policeman goes hunting after a supposed cabal of Illuminati in Florence.
The writing style is a bit clunky at times, and when Preston becomes a part of the story, it sort of starts to falter. But reading about the travesties of the justice and the commedia dell’arte that is the Italian legal system, your jaw will drop. Delivered in the staccato, melodramatic bite-size chapters that makes his fiction fast-food worthy, the book is a fast read, and pretty enjoyable. It’s not as fierce as say, Erik Larsen, but it’s not a bad read if you’re looking for some mildly intriguing non-fiction.