Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Monster of Florence

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Monster of Florence (Grand Central, 2008).

In the unlikely event that I decide to kill anybody, I think that I should do it in Italy. I read The Monster of Florence, which is an account by two journalists about a serial killer who claimed between twelve and sixteen victims, in pairs, between 1968 and 1985. The first two incidents might not have been by the man who orchestrated the later six, although it's very probable that they are. Plenty of people have been arrested for these crimes. Some have been charged, and some convicted, only to be overturned. The common link is not the heinous murders. It's the staggering incompetence of the police.

I'm not kidding. You know how, on Criminal Minds, they'll occasionally pepper one of their bizarre villains' methodology with comparisons to some real-life monster? If Reed hasn't made a link to the Monster of Florence, and how the police investigating that mess made such a screw-up over it, it's only a matter of time. The journalists who collaborated on this book - American Douglas Preston and Italian Mario Spezi - both ended up getting arrested or targeted by the Italian police, almost certainly as payback for mocking their incompetence and/or corruption. At one point, Preston starts correspondence with some conspiracy theorist nutball whom the lead cop takes way too seriously. Honestly, the same force that doesn't even switch on a computer for years, not trusting it, suddenly starts attributing the crimes to a Satanic cult on the advice of some hair-brained lady with a radio talk show, sort of an Italian blend of Lyndon LaRouche and Alex Jones.

About fifteen years after the last confirmed killing, the lead prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, took a crazed dislike to Preston and Spezi sniffing around his fumbling investigation. He decided to claim that Spezi was planting false evidence to incriminate Spezi's most wanted suspect, and arranged for his car, computer, and phone lines to be bugged. Stupid interrogations, time-wasting jail terms, massive violations of the freedom of the press... honestly, serial killer stories don't intrigue me like they once did, but watching the writers of this story become players while the police stupidity escalates so wildly really makes for a striking and bizarre story.

It's said that the writer Thomas Harris attended at least one of the fumbled Monster trials, and chose to move his character Hannibal Lecter to Florence in one of his novels based on what he saw. He might have been inspired by Florence's art and culture, by the Monster's depravity, or by the whole "feeding to pigs" bit, which actually happened to some criminal on the far periphery of this case. No, he moved Lecter to Italy because the character could kill with impunity, so dumb are the local cops. Recommended as a curiosity.

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