THAT (that) wrote,

2018 Book #36 - The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

This is an exceptionally interesting and deftly told true crime story. It starts off being about the crimes—a series of perverse and brutal murders in Florence, Italy—but increasingly becomes about the sprawling investigation, which falls prey to ludicrous conspiracy theories and the career designs of ambitious prosecutors. The authors are even persecuted by the police for writing articles and a book poking holes in their preposterous theories and incompetent methods.

The victims are all young lovers, canoodling in parked cars in the countryside, and it turns out there is a subculture of voyeurs stalking them with binoculars and telephoto lenses, like lecherous birdwatchers, trading information with each other, sometimes even buying and selling choice viewing spots. And yet no-one can catch Il Mostro in the act. The police ignore an FBI profile of the likely culprit and instead, stoked by the ravings of a conspiracy theorist with a website, insist there is a vast Satanic conspiracy, reaching into high places.

There are innumerable colorful characters and scenes, and some pointed observations on Italian culture and character, delivered by Italians.

Although the authors have a pretty good theory of the killer's identity—and even manage to interview him—they do not claim to have conclusively solved the mystery, which I find admirable. The drive for cathartic resolution is strong in crime stories, but in the end, we are left with a huge, sprawling mess: fouled evidence, missed chances, parasitic opportunists, and ultimately, the grief of the victims' near and dear ones, which finds no relief. In other words, crime is chaotic and disruptive and you don't get to close the book with the feeling that everything's been nicely tidied up. That feels more real to me.

If you're interested in modern Italy and/or a crime story that doesn't follow the typical playbook, I recommend this whole-heartedly.
Tags: 2018 book reviews
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