Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Monster of Florence - Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi


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.


4 out of 5 stars


27 comments:

Melody said...

Sounds good to me!
Sometimes, I think it works in a story with no questions being answered. After all, that sounds very much like life, isn't it? ;)

JoAnn said...

This has been on my radar ever since it was released. And I use that expression all the time... inserting 'stuff' when the girls are around ;-)

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I listened to this on audio and was so creeped out by the first half that I had trouble sleeping the first night and then could only listen during the day. A little all over the map, yes, but it was hard to stop listening.

Beth F said...

I have heard good thinks about this one. I like true crime . . . sometimes. I get scared easily though.

bermudaonion said...

I went through a huge true crime phase years ago and have to admit that I still enjoy it from time to time. This book sounds really good to me.

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Thank you for your time reading, do not give up the chance to even know, know no loss to you!

Kathy said...

I read this book earlier this year. Once I saw it, I just had to satisfy my curiosity.

So, did you agree with the authors' determination of the guilty party?

Iliana said...

I'm not much of a true crime reader but this has been on my radar since it came out. Actually, I even won a copy of it but I just haven't gotten around to it. You know how that goes!

Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

I listened to this on audio about six months ago and really enjoyed it...the mix of true crime and journalist-gets-pulled-into-being-part-of-the-story really worked for me. And convinced me NEVER to go parking again.

farmlanebooks said...

I haven't heard about this, but it sounds like something I should look out for - I'm not sure about the split in styles, but I'd like to give it a try. Thanks for drawing it to my attention!

ds said...

Every time this book is mentioned (or I see it in a bookstore) I think of you! Don't know that I could get through the real crime section--too grisly--but the bumbling investigation & its aftereffects remind me a bit of John Berend's City of Falling Angels, which is not nearly as good as Midnight...
Great review, Sandy! And a great expression ;)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm so jealous that your husband knows your exact book tastes and brings you home presents! Actually my husband could probably do that too except I would have probably already snuck out and got the book and he wouldn't know it and then we'd have two, and so it's all for the best that he doesn't! :--)

Zibilee said...

Oh my! This sounds like a really interesting read, and one that would probably leave me wondering. I find it really interesting that Preston and Spezi, just by trying to examine the facts, became outlaws. Italian justice does indeed sound frightening. Great review, Sandy! I am going to have to try this book!

Alyce said...

I've seen this book around, but haven't bought it because of my little boys with curious eyes (for the cover). If I did get it I'd have to paperbag the cover, a-la-junior high harlequin reading. :)

My husband has had hits and misses with buying books for me while on his trips, but I love that he tries.

Melissa M said...

I've seen this one mentioned before, but didn't know it was true crime. I'm not sure what I thought it was, but I'm adding it to my list now!

heidenkind said...

Gee, I wish I could go to Venice to write a book. Haha.

The Bumbles said...

I think we both liked the same parts the most. Oh wait - that makes us sound like serial killer butchers. Hmmm. Maybe I should re-phrase in case those Italian authorities are surfing the web....

Trisha said...

Your husband buys you books! That's awesome. And now another book is on the to buy list... :)

Nymeth said...

Truth really is stranger than fiction, as they say! It's kind of a pity that the book tries to be two things at once, though, even if they're both good things. I had that experience with a book recently and it's always slightly disorienting.

caite said...

that is one of my worst fears, to be falsely accused of a crime in a foreign country. I would so NOT do well in prison.
I will be very careful if, as planned, I get to Italy next year. no funny faces.

caite said...

that is one of my worst fears, to be falsely accused of a crime in a foreign country. I would so NOT do well in prison.
I will be very careful if, as planned, I get to Italy next year. no funny faces.

Darlene said...

This sounds pretty good. I used to read a lot of true crime books and then quit. I may have to read one soon again for something different.

Jenners said...

Lucky me!! I picked this up at the library book shop for 50 cents about a year ago but never read it. Now I will bump it up on the list ... great review!

Anna said...

Wow, I don't read much true crime but this sounds fascinating!

Kathleen said...

Well as your true crime twin, you know I am all over this one!

Alice Teh said...

The good news: I have this book.

The bad news: It's in KL and not in Penang where I'm staying now.

The even badder news: I don't know which nook and cranny I cramped it in. Oh dear.

I'm playing with this idea, if I ever get a chance to meet you, would you teach me how to review books the way you do?

Amy said...

This sounds like a fascinating book, Sandy. I am enthralled by true crime although I tend to watch it more than read it...the ID channel (170) here has several shows that deal with true crimes: Forensics, Detectives, Interrogation etc.

I've been thinking about reading more true crime & The Monster of Florence sounds like one to add to my list!