Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi

In 2000, bestselling author Douglas Preston moved his family to Italy, where he planned on writing a thriller set in historic Florence. Shortly after his arrival, he met journalist Mario Spezi, a meeting that would change both of their lives. Spezi clued Preston in to some horrific crimes that had taken place in the area, crimes that had never truly been solved and that Spezi had been writing about for 20 years.

The first half of the book relates the actual crimes committed, and is a terrifying look at a calculating and vicious crime spree in which amorous couples, parked in the hills surrounding Florence are targeted. The men were typically killed first and instantly, while the women were killed last, and their bodies all mutilated in a similar fashion after their death. While the crimes primarily took place during the 80’s the true killer had never been apprehended. Preston also relates the various avenues taken by law enforcement, including a few unlucky characters who were actually arrested and tried for their involvement in the crimes.

The second half of the book is where Douglas Preston comes into the story – his friendship with Spezi is fueled by both of their interest in the Monster of Florence case, and as they sift through the files that Spezi has kept on the case, they reach their own conclusion regarding the identity of the Monster. Unfortunately, the local law enforcement does not appreciate their involvement, especially since their conclusions are not syncing with the official investigation. Eventually, in a bizarre twist, both Preston and Spezi are targeted by the authorities and endure seemingly ridiculous accusations that cast a very unflattering light on the justice system of Florence.

Although I am not a big reader of true crime, I found this particular book to be gripping – I could not put it down! Preston is a well-known writer of fiction and he applies his considerable talent to the tale at hand. The book moves along at a quick pace, although with all of the suspects, victims, witnesses and law enforcement in this book, I had to keep referring back to the handy “Cast of Secondary Characters” that Preston so thoughtfully provides in the beginning of the book. This is a non-fiction book that reads as fiction with a story so fantastic it lends credence to the old saying, “truth is stranger than fiction.”

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