Book Review: The Monster of Florence

The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Castles. Murder. Money. Conspiracy. Sexual Rituals. Devil Worship.

Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi have created a book that reads like fiction but is unbelievably true. Spanning decades and affecting countless lives the Monster of Florence is well-known in Italy as their very own Jack the Ripper. Here in America, little is known about this story in spite of being the inspiration for the movie Hannibal.

As a young crime reporter at an Italian newspaper, Spezi takes over the Sunday news desk. “Nothing ever happens on a Sunday in Italy,” except, of course, the Sunday that Spezi is working. What happens next will lead Spezi on a mission lasting more than 30 years, a mission that is still unfinished to this day.

The Monster is believed to have killed 14 people, seven couples making love in the Tuscan hills. Spezi’s only job was to report the facts on the story. However, when the police investigation is botched time and again, Spezi takes it upon himself to bring the offender to justice. After having reported on all the murders, been to all the crime scenes, and interacting with all the victims’ families, Spezi knows more about the Monster than anyone. He becomes the Monstrologer.

How does Douglas Preston fit into this story? He had the unfortunate (fortunate?) luck of renting a house adjacent to one of the crime scenes. While doing research for an unrelated fiction novel set in Italy, Preston learns of the Monster. The truth is stranger than any fiction he could write, how could Preston pass up a chance like this?

After teaming up with Spezi, the book was conceived. The duo step on some toes in an effort to expose the truth and before they know it, they are characters in their own story.

The book was occasionally difficult to follow due to the ever-expanding cast of characters. There is a guide at the beginning which is “helpful” just as long as you can find who you are looking for in the first place. There are also some passages in Italian that lack an English translation. These two minor issues for the reader actually add to the overall feel of the book. One really gets a feel for the incredible number of suspects and the piles of evidence and just how overwhelming this case was for the police. One also gets a feel for how confusing this whole situation would be for an English-speaking journalist in a foreign country suddenly trapped in his own storyline.

The Monster has never officially been named therefore the story has no official ending. However, Preston and Spezi paint a very clear image of the Monster, of the man most likely behind the murders, of an investigation gone so wrong it will never right itself, and a police unit too proud to admit its mistakes. In this case the truth is not only stranger than fiction – it’s better.

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