In the summer of 1981, the historic city of Florence, Italy was rocked by the brutal murder of two lovers in a parked car. Mario Spezi was a newspaperman who caught the case and became the city's foremost expert on what turned out to a serial killer with at least 14—and maybe 16—victims. The murderer, dubbed The Monster by the press, shot and mutilated couples having sex in the Florentine hills (a time-honored custom in a country where late marriage is common, and living together is unthinkable). His signatures were a distinctive notch on the shell casings and the removal of the women's sex organs. Although the case was an Italian obsession for years and inspired Thomas Harris' sequel Hannibal, The Monster remained relatively unknown in America.
So when popular author Douglas Preston arrived in Florence to write a novel and contacted Spezi for research purposes, he stumbled onto a real-life mystery more compelling than the fiction he had planned. In the first part of The Monster Of Florence, he retraces Spezi's involvement with the '80s investigations, weaving an increasingly maddening tale of promising leads left hanging and ambitious prosecutors framing the innocent. In the second, Preston reveals how his own attempts to revive the case in the early 2000s led to Spezi becoming a suspect and Preston being indicted for his association with the journalist.
The Monster Of Florence is the most exasperating true-crime book in years, because the Italian authorities seem determined to spin the wildest fantasies rather than following actual clues. The so-called "Sardinian Trail," a line of inquiry focusing on an insular group of families from Sardinia who originally imported the murder weapon, was abandoned when the judge could not close the case. Instead, mental defectives, prostitutes, and other motley characters were used to implicate a group of "picnicking friends" whom the prosecution painted as the leaders in an orgiastic Satanic cult. When Preston is questioned about whether he and Spezi planted evidence to prove their version of the crime, the book's through-the-looking-glass tension is almost unbearable. Although The Monster Of Florence doesn't solve the case, presenting only a likely story, its headlong rush into the horror of official incompetence is more than compensation for the real-life loose ends.