The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

May 23, 2010

monster of florence Summary (with spoilers): Between the years 1968 and 1985, 16 gruesome murders were committed in Florence, Italy. Police believed the same killer (or killers) was (were) responsible for each crime, and the media quickly dubbed this person the Monster of Florence. The killings had numerous features in common: all were couples (so there were really just eight crime scenes here), all were murdered while engaging in sex outdoors in cars or tents, and all the female victims were brutally mutilated postmortem. Forensic evidence suggested that the same type of scuba knife was used in all the crimes, and the victims were killed with the same .22 pistol.

The idea that a serial killer was on the loose sent Florence into a frenzy, and since the police were unable to come up with any viable suspects on their own, the general public was more than willing to help out. Anonymous accusations started flying around, and the cops actually followed up on some of these bogus tips, resulting in a number of men getting a tarnished reputation. According to author Douglas Preston, as the years passed by with no new leads, the police became increasingly desperate to bring a suspect in.

The cops finally latched onto a peasant farmer named Pietro Pacciani. Pacciani was interviewed and later arrested after not being able to provide an airtight alibi for the last two murders. Morever, Pacciani was known to have committed incest with his two daughters, which further sullied his name in the eyes of authorities. He was tried and convicted of seven of the eight double murders, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.

Preston, a thriller writer, became interested in the case after living in Italy for a time, right near one of the Monster of Florence murder scenes. He befriended reporter Mario Spezi, who had been covering the case since the beginning and was the undisputed expert on the Monster. The two decided to team up and conduct their own investigation into the killings. They never believed Pacciani was the monster because he was a backwards and somewhat frail old man who simply didn’t fit the profile. Preston and Spezi believed that someone named Antonio Vinci was the Monster, but they couldn’t come up with solid proof to back their theory.

To date, the crimes remain unsolved.

Liked:

  • The Monster of Florence killings were interesting on their own, and made for a great subject for a true crime book.
  • Preston did an adequate job of retelling the history of a case that covered nearly 40 years at the time of writing. There must have been a mountain of paperwork, interviews, court transcripts, and reports to sift through and condense into a manageable book size. I don’t know anything about the Monster of Florence besides what I read here, but if felt like Preston hit all the highlights.

Disliked:

  • There was something about the tone of the book that seemed a bit off. I can’t quite put my finger it, but the writing seemed too distant, as though the authors weren’t involved at all (talking about Part I here, before Spezi was arrested).
  • Some of Preston’s phrases got on my nerves because they were repeated so damn often. In particular, “Pacciani and his picnicking friends” comes to mind. Preston must have thought that was a clever way to describe the bunch because he probably used the phrase 15-20 times.
  • I listened to the audiobook version from my library, and the reader was terrible. He used a horrid Italian accent whenever reading dialogue from an Italian person involved in the case. It was so bad that it completely distracted me from the story. OMG, I actually felt embarrassed for the guy.
  • The promotional material for this book excitedly proclaims that Preston and Spezi sat down for an interview with the man they believed to be the Monster (Antonio Vinci). I wasn’t expecting that interview to be an all-out confession, but hoped that it would at least be somewhat revelatory. It wasn’t. What a major letdown.
  • Sometimes Preston strayed too far from the main storyline with out-of-place descriptions of his house in Maine, how his kids fared in Italian schools, and other crap like that. In a nonfiction book, I prefer it when the author sticks to the point.
  • Preston didn’t do a very good job of generating any tension or intrigue in this book. Yes, these are unsolved crimes, so we know going in that we’re not going to get any real answers. But I just have to think of the film Zodiac, and how there was a great deal of suspense whenever the main suspect was on the screen even though those crimes remain unsolved as well. If Preston and Spezi thought Vinci was the killer, they could have beefed up that section a bit by giving more information about the man or by doing a better job trying to convince readers that he was guilty.
  • There was a throwaway line near the end of the book about how Perugia police arrested “innocent American student Amanda Knox” in connection with the murder of roommate Meredith Kercher. What? HTF did Preston know she was innocent????

Rating:

I hardly ever read true crime novels, so I’m not sure how The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston compares to similar works. What I can tell you, however, is that I wasn’t overly impressed by how this story was presented. Sure, Preston and Spezi communicate the facts and bring the uninitiated up to speed, but there wasn’t much beyond that. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

2 Responses to “The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston”

  1. I wasn’t a big fan of this one either. The story was great, but the execution–not so much!

  2. That was pretty much my problem with it. The serial killer angle had so many terrific possibilities, but Preston was unable to create a compelling story out of it.

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