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Douglas Preston moved to Florence, Italy with the intention of writing a novel. He had the plot all laid out and was ready to begin. Instead, he got caught up in a true crime story after being introduced to journalist, Mario Spezi.

The Monster of Florence, as dubbed by Spezi himself in a series of newspaper articles, is an Italian serial killer that has never been caught. He’s been called Italy’s “jack The Ripper.” Beginning in 1968, eight couples have been shot to death in various lover’s lanes in the area with the same gun, the woman in each case suffering various mutilations of genetalia and/or breasts. The only variation is a gay couple that the “monster” apparently was enraged to discover was two men.

Presto was taken to the various scenes by Spezi, who’d been covering the story since it’s beginning. By this time, in the early 2000s, there hadn’t been a killing in twenty years and a number of outlandish theories had been advanced  about what was happening.

Preston and Spezi, while researching and planning an article for the New Yorker(it was eventually killed as it was supposed to be published in September, 2001), have theories of their own that are opposed to the “official” police line. Apparently, the police seemed to be buying into an Italian woman’s conspiracy web site involving satanic cults, multiple killers, and a large group of wealthy men behind it all.

Before it’s all done, when it’s known that Preston and Spezi are planning a new book on the killings, the police man in charge, with his own bestselling book on the subject, hauls Preston in and questions him, charging him with obstruction, and more or less tells him to get out of the country. Or else! Spezi is arrested  for being the Monster of Florence and disappears into the system for five days. When he gets into court, he’s eventually cleared of all charges. Even there, it seems the Italian judicial system is just interested in it all going away. Innocence or guilt apparently has less merit than saving “face.”

Preston and Spezi make a compelling case for who the actual killer might be, but acknowledge that it’s unlikely to ever be solved for the previously mentioned reasons.

Preston, normally known for his thrillers, both solo and in partnership with Lincoln Child, does a good job with Spezi. I’m not normally a true crime buff, but I am a Preston fan. Worth a look by both groups.