Obsession by the serial killer who struck over several decades. Obsession by the Italian journalist who was lucky enough to be working that fateful Sunday when the first case opened. Obsession by the American writer who couldn’t leave well enough alone.
The first section is Mario Spezi’s story. He is the Italian journalist whose career would eventually circle solely around the Monster of Florence. A 1981 murder of a couple having sex in a parked car – apparently a common occurrence around Florence since young adults continue to live with their parents until marriage. The young man was shot and the woman was dragged out of the car and stabbed to death. Her vagina was also violated but not by the murderer.
A connection is made to a similar murder in 1968. A suspect is tossed in jail and Florence waits to see if the summer will pass without another murder.
It does not.
The story gets complicated, which is the fun part. The police is fractured into several departments that must work together but continue to work separate investigations. Some investigators are able to turn small gains in the case into promotions which allows new personalities to take one detail and run in an entirely new direction.
Many theories are promoted at various times. The Sardinian Trail. The Order of the Red Rose. Rich aristocrats who needs the mutilated vaginas to eat in their demonic rituals. (Not kidding with that one.) Some of the theories turn into witch hunts – a man even commits suicide because he is accused of being the Monster.
Then Douglas Preston arrives in Florence and while conducting research for a novel, he meets Spezi and learns about the Monster. It is a compelling story and I understand why he became obsessed. Preston and Spezi decided to solve the case on their own and even confront the man they believe is the Monster.
All that poking around rustles some feathers and Spezi and Preston are interrogated by the police. Spezi is suspected of being the Monster since he knows so much about the murders. As of publication, Preston is not allowed back in Italy.
More than the serial murders, the police investigation is the primary focus of this story. The prosecutors who refuse to change their minds. The obstinate judges. The Squadra Anti-Mostro created just to catch the killer. The terrible secret witnesses revealed to be a mentally retarded man, an alcoholic prostitute, and a serial witness who would miraculously remember something from decades earlier and change his tune when needed.
Ineptitude is the word bouncing around your brain by the last page.
The investigation took on a life of its own and because of all the perks and promotions that came with involvement, it’s easy to think the decades-long case was sustained purely for career advancement.
The Monster of Florence is a fascinating journalistic account of the long journey of an Italian investigation. It would be a great beach read this summer.