Did you know that Italy had its own serial killer? Or that Thomas Harris was inspired by those murders when he wrote the sequel to the uber successful Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal? Let me introduce you to II Mostro or The Monster of Florence.
The Monster murdered 16 people in the province of Florence from 1968 to 1985 and he has never been tried for his crimes. Unfortunately, a few other men were tried, but they were not II Mostro and many men, families, and careers were destroyed during these.
Douglas Preston sort of stumbled into learning of the story when he moved to Florence in August of 2000 to work on a new book. It turns out that the house that he rented for his family just happens to be next to the olive grove that was one of the murder sites. Preston, a well know thriller writer, is intrigued and by meeting the journalist that covered II Mostro for more than twenty years, Mario Spezi, he ends up becoming part of the story himself.
II Mostro murdered lovers. He shot both dead and then usually dragged the woman’s body off a ways and took a biological trophy from her, leaving her exposed almost in a ritualistic fashion. In Italy, courtship rituals are a wee bit different from here in the US, young people live with their families until they are married, so where are loving couples going to go when they are desirous of a bit of one-on-one time? They take their cars and find quiet semi sheltered back-roads often near olive groves or vineyards that provide great views of the Florentine valley and most importantly, privacy.
This practice didn’t shock me at all, but a cottage industry that it spawned did. It seems that there is a whole group of men, called Inidiani, would creep around in the dark like peeping toms to watch these young lovers. Can you imagine? They had specific spots where they liked to watch and many even brought along night vision goggles and cameras to get better angles and just maybe something to blackmail adulterers with!
Anywho, when Preston gets into the story, there hadn’t been a murder since 1985, yet police were still busy investigating and pointing fingers and that suspect or another with craze and lack of evidence so much so that they reminded me of a Peter Sellers caper movie. You see, there are the police, then there are the carabinieri (military police), different prosecutors, and magistrates are all involved in the case and that makes for a big fat mess if you ask me.
For the book, Spezi catches Preston up by telling him everything that has happened so far and then the work on finding the killer together. They seem to think that the killer lies down in a direction that had long been considered closed by the police. The police and magistrates are off chasing leads and creating flimsy facts looking into a vast conspiracy of rich satanic worshippers. I kid you not, they are ready to arrest pretty much every nobleman in the province as being a member of a satanic cult.
It hits the fan when the police get tired of Preston and Spezi saying that the police are on the wrong trail. Italian men are proud men and they don’t like to be told that they are wrong. Next thing you know, Preston and Spezi are indicted and Spezi is then suspected as being II Mostro.
This is true crime like no other and what made it more interesting was that it takes place in Italy. Not only do we get to read beautiful descriptions of Florence, we get to peek inside how the Italian Justice system works…..or doesn’t work in this case. I hate to judge how another county runs things, but the way they do it isn’t in no way efficient and in this case, seldom leads to justice. It is like a bunch of clowns took over and the attending media add to the circus atmosphere.
It should be no surprise that I couldn’t put the book down. I wanted to know who II Mostro was and just couldn’t fathom the lengths that the legal system would go to in order to push their theories of the case ahead, no matter how out there they were.
Of special interest was how they could turn on journalists, whose job it is to investigate and report the story to the masses. That aspect of the story had journalists all over the world crying foul, just as it should have.
Brava Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi!
The Monster of Florence by Douglass Preston with Mario Spezi
- Hardcover: 576 pages
- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (June 10, 2008)
- ISBN-10: 044650534X
- ASIN: B003STCMQU