Friday, August 15th, 2008
By Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
Douglas Preston and his oft-time writing partner, Lincoln Child, are known for their gripping thriller/mysteries. This non-fiction account of the investigation into a series of gruesome murders in Florence has just as much tension. Even if you don’t normally like non-fiction, you’ll find Preston’s writing style totally approachable and the story amazing – all the more so because it is true. That makes it really, really scary.
Start with a series of murders in beautiful Tuscany, all involving young lovers parked in the night for privacy and passion. Add a labyrinthine investigation with secret indictments, bizarre interpretations of evidence, and police conclusions that defy imagination. Give the elusive killer a catchy moniker like “the Monster of Florence.” Then make the authors (Preston and Spezi) part of the story: Not as brilliant investigators but as suspects.
Who needs fiction when you have this reality to work with?
Preston and Spezi do an excellent job of unveiling the crimes, explaining the evidence, portraying the suspects and investigators, even capturing the impact these horrific crimes have on all of Italy. The writing style is closer to what you expect in a fiction book, making the story simply zip along.
In less deft hands, you could become overwhelmed by the number of characters in this book. The investigation alone involves several different organizations as well as a number of different people. However, this duo keeps everything clear without sacrificing the pacing of the plot.
It’s when things get personal that the tension kicks up several notches. Simply by conducting a few interviews in order to write their own (this) book on the Monster, Preston and Spezi find themselves accused of crimes, maligned in the press, and in fear for their future. To go further would ruin the second half of the book. Let’s just say that, with all its faults, the American justice system looks like a romp through Disneyland compared to the reality in which Douglas and Spezi found themselves ensnared.
Truth truly is stranger than fiction. And every bit as interesting to read (if not more so) in this case.
Want Some Plot?
Real life thriller writer, Douglas Preston, moves his family to the Tuscany area on a whim. He soon meets the intrepid reporter (Spezi) who has followed the Monster of Florence crimes, the investigations, and all its associated foibles for decades. The two decide to write a book together about the Monster and the on-going investigation. That’s when their troubles begin.
The book is wisely divided into two parts. The first covers the murders (16 in all) and all the investigations, accusals, and imprisonments that takes place before Preston and Spezi team up. This was probably meant to be the entire book originally – it’s a powerful story on its own full of sex, murder, mutilation, incompetence, lying witnesses, satanic cults, and more.
The second part describes the bizarre happenings when the writers unwilling become part of the plot: Phone taps, interrogations, you name it. It’s a Kafkaesque world where anything can happen.
The only problem is that this book ends in 2006, yet the investigation was still grinding on, finding other victims (and I don’t mean of the Monster). Mr. Preston told me that events are still unfolding and hopefully he’ll find time soon to add that information to the website he shares with frequent collaborator, Lincoln Child. Click here to visit and see.