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.

The Bess Crawford Read a Long with BookClubGirl!

I have been waiting for this! I have my copy of The Duty to the Dead to start, all ready and waiting!

Book Club Girl is hosting this and you can sign up too if you wish! Come on and join the fun. This will be my first official “read-a-long” and it was thanks to Book Club Girl that I picked up my first Maisie Dobbs book. She was hosting a read-a-long for Maisie at the time. I did not join but ended up falling madly in love with Maisie!

I had already marked down the Bess Crawford series as one to read, and when I discovered Bess-time was WWI time, well I decided to wait until this Read-a-Long to, well, more than likely, fall madly in love with Bess Crawford too!


Here’s the schedule of when Book Club Girl will post questions about each book for us to discuss:

March 26thA Duty to the Dead discussion
April 30th
An Impartial Witness discussion
May 1stA Bitter Truth paperback goes on sale
May 29th
A Bitter Truth discussion (May 28th is Memorial Day)
June 5thAn Unmarked Grave – the new hardcover goes on sale
June 25th
An Unmarked Grave discussion
June 28th
Book Club Girl on Air Show with Charles Todd to Discuss the Entire Series

Look for updates along the way here, on Twitter (#besscrawford), and on the Book Club Girl and Charles Todd Facebook pages.

If you are a big Maisie Dobbs fan and of Downton Abbey you’ll want to join in the fun! We’re all going to be experiencing Downton withdrawl after last night’s amazing season finale.

This Read-a-Long was hinted at last year and was anticipated in my 2012 reading goals and challenges, so I’m all a twitter about it! 🙂

Review: Madame Tussaud

Reading Historical fiction is a wonderful way to make you appreciate the times in which you live! Especially when reading about the bloody French Revolution! Holy time of turmoil Batman! The betrayal! The Guillotine! The slaughter! Wow! Approximately 40 000 lives lost in a span of less than 5 years. No wonder The time was referred to as “The Reign of Terror”!

This was the story of Marie Grosholtz, who would eventually become the famous Madame Tussaud of wax museum fame. She was trained as a sculptress by her uncle/step father when she was only 17 years old. When I started this book last year (Goodreads cleverly allowed me to read the first 5 chapters for free to get me hooked) I had the impression that it would be the story of how she became famous as an artist. But when I picked it up again for the Random Reader Historical Fiction reading challenge I soon found out that it was more about Marie’s involvement during one of the most tumultuous times in history– The French Revolution.

I would say that this story was more about the Revolution itself with Marie as one of its main characters than it was about the art of creating the wax figures. It went deep into the detail of the political players who were in and out of the Salon de Cire– her first museum in Paris. Marie was an incredible business woman and had a knack for knowing the latest trends, always exhibiting the most fashionable figures of the day– from the King and Queen to the leaders of the Revolution. She easily blended into the worlds of both Royalist and Revolutionary and played both sides so well that she was beyond reproach until the very end. Her sculpting skills became so well known that when heads began to roll Marie was forced to spend more and more time in the Madeleine Cemetery making “Death Masks” of the rich and famous than arranging her own models in the Salon. Her refusal to produce a mask of Princesse Elizabeth, sister of the king, got her sent to the notorious Les Carmes prison where she barely escaped with her life.

So, this is anarchy. This life without order or laws, the way our ancestors lived it before without chieftains or kings. Paris has become a city of ghosts.

I did enjoy this book but had already read a couple of books about the French Revolution that contained much of the same information so I feel like I didn’t really learn anything new with this one. I will say that it was very well written, you could totally tell that the research was done and there were no fake characters (which I am not a fan of in Historical Fiction). I will definitely be looking into reading more from Michelle Moran. I have only read good reviews about her Egypt series and I can’t wait to give those a read– I hardly know anything at all about that time period.

3 stars (3.5 if you know nothing about the French Revolution– quite a lot of good history in here written in a way so that it is not boring!)

Just adding more tears: A Monster Calls

I don’t have much more to add to Jackie’s review of A Monster Calls at all. Actually, I don’t even think I can see the computer screen. Sometimes you just need that kind of book to let it all out. I bought a box of Kleenex recently and for no real reason (well at the time), we aren’t big Kleenex box people around here. I needed it today though. It’s been well used now.

No, I don’t have much more to say other than you really do need to read this book. And you can watch this wonderful Book Trailer for A Monster Calls here.

I haven’t cried this hard since reading this book, oddly, another Young Adult tale, The Book Thief. The trailer for that wonder is here for your viewing as well. Of course, as with A Monster Calls, please read the books. Definitely worth every moment of your time.