The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston with Mario Spetzi-This book was overdue and I couldn't renew it, so I finished it and returned it without any notes or quotes. As a result, this is just going to be my immediate thoughts upon finishing the book. The Monster of Florence is the name given to a serial killer who terrorized Florence for almost 20 years, killing young lovers who were out "parking" at night. He would then mutilate the female victims' bodies and take parts as souvenirs.
Preston is an author of several thrillers who moved to Italy and met Spezi, a journalist who had been covering The Monster story along with all its botched investigations for years. As Spezi revealed more and more of the story, Preston became intrigued, and they decided to collaborate on an article for The New Yorker and later on a book. (The article was not published due to the timing-the events of September 11, 2001 squashed any interest that the magazine had in publishing a story about a serial killer in Italy). The research that they did along the way shook up the police and got Preston kicked out of Italy and Spezi arrested, basically for publicly suggesting that the theory the police had was wrong.
The book is half serial-killer story and half Preston/Spezi saga, and what passes for law and justice in Italy is almost as shocking as the murders. I was mostly just frustrated by this book, but that may have been the author's intent, at least partly. Over the years, there were many suspects and thousands of leads and theories, and the police seemed intent on following the wildest, most unlikely theories while ignoring some of the most likely suspects and evidence. At one point a suspicious rag with blood stains is found in a suspect's house, but it is not taken as evidence because the police don't believe that the killer would be stupid enough to keep something like that in the house if it were a key piece of evidence, so, clearly, it must not be a key piece of evidence, and, therefore, it is not worth taking into custody. Glad these guys weren't in charge of Jeffrey Dahmer's investigation. "Hey, uh, Bob, there's a human head in this guy's freezer. Do you think we should collect this as evidence?" "Naaaah. You think he would be keeping it in there if it wasn't legit? If he were trying to hide something, wouldn't he have hidden it better than that?" Meanwhile, back in Italy, the police are bent on following a conspiracy theory advanced to them by a local psychic about a satanic cult involving many upper-class members of society. I was ultimately frustrated with their treatment of the investigation and with the lack of conclusion to the The Monster case. If Preston's goal was to turn readers off from Italy and her people, he just might have succeeded.
This was an interesting story overall, but I'm not sure that there aren't more satisfying tellings of it out there. Of course this one is unique because of Preston's and Spezi's involvement, and I do think Preston did an admirable job of weaving together all the characters and information, but at times I think he thought he was being more suspenseful than he really was; I was hollering out a suspect's name about a hundred pages before Preston came to his Oh-my-God-do-you-think-The-Monster-could-be-X?? moment. If you do decide to read this I would recommend doing it in as few sittings as possible. I suspect that trying to read this in short bits over a long period of time will leave you confused and doing a lot of flipping back and forth going, "Now, who is this guy again??" So...if you're interested give it a go, but if not don't feel bad. Just don't ever bad-mouth the Italian police if you are ever in Italy.
Lori at She Treads Softly did manage to get some quotes into her review.
Jessica at Both Eyes Book Blog clears up the difference between "Enchantress" and "Monster."
Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea listened to the audio version and gave us her thoughts.
Have you read The Monster of Florence? What did you think? Were you as frustrated as I was? If you've reviewed the book on your blog, let me know and I will include a link to your review.