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Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

This is a true crime mystery.

Douglas Preston and his family moved to Florence, Italy and lived there for 4 years. During that time he became acquainted with Mario Spezi, an Italian journalist who had become an expert on the Monster of Florence. He had followed and written about the serial killer from the very beginning. He told the story to Preston because Preston and his family were living in the area where one of the double murders took place. It interested Preston so much that they began to collaborate on an article, and then a book, on this case.

It seems that the countryside of Florence becomes a "lover's lane" on weekend nights and couples pair off in their cars to have sex. This has spawned voyeurs and peeping toms who get their kicks out of trolling around and finding these spots and watching couples have sex in their cars. I guess if you are going to have illicit affairs in your car, you can't be too shocked at what slimey dark walkers do in your wake. According to Preston it becomes quite an organized underground system. Ick!

The killer would strike while the couples were "coupled" shall we say. He killed them by shooting them with a .22 pistol (that was never found) and mutilated the corpses over a period from 1968 to 1985. Then it stopped. The police were inundated with clues and theories and so-called witnesses. Arrests were made only to have alibis presented or acquitals made. This case led to innocent people spending time in jail, suicides, bankruptcies, police and prosecutor corruption, etc. The killings are straightforward enough, but the twists and turns of the Italian judicial system, including the investigators, were patently absurd, laughable. It seems their desire to ride this famous serial killer's coattails to fame and fortune got the best of them. They intended to make their career by putting someone in jail for being the Monster!

Mismanagement of the crime scenes, evidence and investigations made for poor police work to start with. But, we've learned a lot over the decades, especially with the crime scene shows we have on TV today (yuck, yuck). But their deliberate attempts to railroad suspects were scary. It didn't matter if it made sense, if they had evidence, if the suspect had an alibi, whatever. They made up theories to match what they wanted to believe. They would plant evidence and find any screwball to testify. Of course, this doesn't just happen in Italy and with that much pressure on the police to find this horrible killer, I guess it's only natural things get out of hand. What was laughable was years later, after most of those involved had died...the Italian judicial system is still doing silly stunts like accusing Mario Spezis and Douglas Preston with obstruction of justice charges.

I have to say this book was a page turner and once I started it, I read it straight through. It reminded me of Patricia Cornwell's Portrait Of A Killer (about her attempts to solve the Jack the Ripper mystery) although much better written. Or Steve Hodel's Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius For Murder, another fascinating true crime but not as well written as Preston's. I didn't see it's likeness to Erik Larson's, Devil In A White City, because Larson's tale is about a known serial killer. There is no mystery as to whodunit, only a fascinating (I loved the book) story about the famous killer and how he did it during the World's Fair in Chicago. As with all mysteries I like mine solved or so nearly solved that there is little doubt in my mind. You will have to see if Preston solves this mystery.

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