Tuesday, July 20, 2010
One of my favorite sayings is "you can't make this ____ up". (insert expletive) That is probably why I am so taken with true crime - it IS stranger than fiction. And my husband knows his wife, because he came home from one of his business trips with this book in his hand, which he purchased for me when spending idle time in an airport bookstore. Good job, honey.
Douglas Preston never imagined what lie in wait for him in Florence, Italy when he moved his family there to write one of his murder mysteries. But when he discovered that his rental home was located near the site of a grisly 1980's murder, one of a series in fact, he was distracted. Upon befriending journalist Mario Spezi, who covered the slayings of 7 "lover's lane" couples that occurred over a ten year time period, he was hooked. His focus was officially diverted.
The first half of the book is the serial murder case as described by Spezi. And it is something more unbelievable than the most deranged murder thriller you've ever read. An elusive individual (or possibly more than one?) creeps up to couples parked in their car for a little romance, shoots the male execution-style, and butchers the woman with a knife, removing various female parts as a souvenir. Often the crime occurs during a full moon, and goes through cycles of frequency and then periods of silence. Forensic evidence is abundant, but due to a seemingly bumbling police department, crime scenes are never protected, and much of the evidence is never collected. In fact, the police investigation is more of a witch-hunt based on rumors and speculation. Many different individuals are arrested and imprisoned over the years (mobsters, old men, sufferers of dementia), but each time a new murder occurs, the investigation is knocked back to square one. Pursuit of the killer occurs for twenty years after the last crime, but the murders are never solved.
The second half of the book begins when Preston shows up in Florence and begins to poke around. His interest in the case is fueled by Spezi's passion to get to the bottom of a mystery that has been mishandled from the very beginning. Spezi and Preston interview suspects, unearth documents, and believe they have a very good idea of who the murderer actually is, but can't prove it. Unfortunately, the police take great offense - how DARE they second guess authority??? - and soon become the enemy.
You see, according to a local member of Florence's society and friend of Preston's, Italy represents a community with a permanent climate of witch-hunting. An answer MUST be found, public opinion must be upheld, and everyone has the potential to be a suspicious character, no matter if they are truly guilty or not. As pot-stirrers, Preston and Spezi threaten to upset their apple cart, so authorities construct a story that places the two writers at the center of controversy. Spezi is imprisoned (later to be released but with a ruined reputation) and Preston is run out of Italy and told to never return.
It would probably be fair to say that this book has a little bit of an identity crisis. Both identities make very good reading, don't get me wrong. The serial murder mystery is terrifying, heightened by the raw viciousness of the crime, and the fact that the perpetrator was never caught. The idiotic state of the police and the justice system in Italy is shocking and maddening, and makes me never want to step foot in that country ever. God forbid you are in the same building at the same time a crime is committed, and you have a funny look on your face when you are questioned. You just might find yourself in an Italian prison forever.
So is it a true crime murder mystery? An expose? A rant? Yes to all. Nevertheless, it is gripping, easy to read, and, if you don't mind your questions being unanswered, something any true crime fan will immensely enjoy. It left me with one lingering thought.
There is more than one monster in Florence.