Review: The Monster of Florence

The Monster of Florence is a grand attempt to turn an unsolved crime spree into a page-burner.  The book is divided into two separate sections: first a thorough account of a lunatic’s murderous spree in the quaint hillsides of Florence (and the botched police investigation that followed), and second, the persecution of the authors of this book, who had attempted to reveal the Monster via their own sleuth work.

Between the years of 1968 and 1985, the Monster of Florence brutally murdered seven couples, who were “coupling” at the time of their untimely deaths.  The Monster caught most of the couples in parked cars, but also managed to murder one pair in a tent, and another in a camper.  The crimes were gruesome, and cowardly.  The motive?  Speculations bounded all over the place, from the rage of an impotent man, to a scorned lover who was vowing revenge, to a satanic cult that required human body parts for its rituals.  What was incredible was the fact that authorities just could not catch the Monster.  Italian police would jail a suspect, only to find that another couple was murdered while that suspect was in custody.  Overall, the efforts of the Italian justice system were downright bumbling.  Police, prosecutors and even judges started to work at cross purposes in an effort to solve the crimes.

The detail provided in the first portion of the book was well researched.  The cast of characters was lengthy, and the investigators and suspects themselves became embroiled in a never-ending whodunit.  The history of Florence was also very interesting, as the location itself became a central character of the story.  This portion was well crafted, and if I could split the book in two, I would give this first half 3 stars.

Part two – years later.  Enter American author Douglas Preston, as he moved himself and his family to Italy to write another thriller.  (Not about the Monster of Florence.)  Once he met Italian journalist Mario Spezi, however, he could not ignore the mystery that had puzzled Italians for decades.  It was then that Preston and Spezi decided to launch their own Monster of Florence investigation, and publish their findings.

This second half of the book is where I grew impatient.  While Preston and Spezi did introduce interesting new theories to the investigation, they also appeared increasingly anxious to push their names to the forefront of the story.  Spezi, the journalistic expert on the case for years, lent his wealth of information to Preston, and the two became not only co-authors of this book, but also good friends.  The more they poked around at the case, however, the angrier the Italian police became.  Eventually, the two infuriated the authorities enough that they themselves became the targets of a brand new investigation.   Both were interrogated.  Spezi was jailed and put on trial for obstruction of justice.  Preston was sent home to the U.S. with the warning that he would be arrested if he attempted to return to Italy.  In sum, both authors beat the freedom of the press drums, while the Italian system tried desperately to cover up their lengthy and shoddy Monster case.  At this point, the book turned away from the unsolved crimes, and focused solely on Preston and Spezi, and the trials and tribulations associated with their own investigation.  I found this to be a little too self-serving.  2 stars for the second half of the book.

Overall, the book’s premise was promising, but I felt that the results were marred by Douglas Preston’s need to cast aspersions on the Italian judicial system (albeit much was warranted).  His incredulity toward the system and certain individuals took over, and the actual mystery was all but lost by the final chapters.  Preston and Spezi’s fight for freedom of the press became more important than the lives that were lost to a lunatic, and it just didn’t feel right.  Average between the two sections of the book: 2.5 stars.

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