Douglas Preston, author of Relic and other novels with his writing partner Lincoln Child, moved to Florence to write a novel, only to find that one of the aforementioned murders happened across the street from his house. Thus began a years long fascination with the serial killer, and the abandonment of his very purpose for being in Italy.
It sounds like a grand adventure, doesn’t it? Being in a beautiful historic city, chasing a Jack the Ripper-type serial killer who has haunted a community for more than twenty years. Well, the adventure probably hit a little too close to home for Preston.
Thanks to an incompetent district attorney (rather, the Italian equivalent) hell bent on convincing the world that a satanic cult was behind these murders, Preston and his friend, Mario Spezi, came under investigation by Italian police. Spezi, in fact, was accused of being the Monster, and was even held in prison without counsel before international disdain was heaped upon the investigators (with the aid of Preston).
Overall, this was a solid book. My concern with true crime is the tendency to disrespect the victims by reveling in their deaths, but Preston does a pretty good job of giving detail without seeming to bask in the horror of the murders. And this reads more like the memoir of a man caught up in a situation for which he was wholly unprepared than it does a true crime investigation.
And, to that end, it’s hard to come away from this without thinking Douglas Preston may have been a bit naive at the outset. It seems as though some part of him thought he could research the crimes, gather all the facts, uncover new clues, and find the killer (perhaps even drawing him out), and the whole affair would be neatly tied up at the end. Instead, he found himself kicked out of the country and his friend behind bars.
He addresses this naiveté, thankfully, so this isn’t so much a criticism of the book as it is a commentary on the dangers of exceptionalism.
Even though I found the overall story fairly compelling….it’s not what I wanted. After reading books on EAR/ONS, BTK, and the Zodiac, I wanted another investigative true crime book. And while that’s what Preston thought he was going to write, this book is less about the Monster of Florence, and more about the bumbling investigators and the author getting caught up in their ineptitude.
So I can’t really say I’m fully sold on the book. But I recognize that the failure may be less Preston’s fault than it is my own unfair expectations.