The Renaissance city of Firenze (Florence to English speakers) figures strongly in this issue of BookPage; in my Whodunit column, I reviewed Magdalen Nabb's Vita Nuova, a contemporary mystery set in the Tuscan capital. This book, Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi's The Monster of Florence, is perhaps even more chilling, since it is a nonfiction account of a series of murders that happened over the course of 20 years, by a killer who, to date, has never been caught.
In 2000, American novelist Douglas Preston moved to Florence, with the notion of writing a thriller set in 1960s Tuscany in the wake of an epic flood; it was to be a short-lived notion. Shortly after his arrival, he met Italian author and journalist Spezi, who regaled him with the tale of the Monster of Florence, who killed only courting couples, only on Saturday nights of a new moon. Preston was hooked: the scene of one grisly double homicide was literally just outside his door, a peaceful olive grove with a sweeping view of the Florentine hills. In short order, Preston and Spezi collaborated on an article about the Monster for an American magazine. Their ongoing research led them on a strange journey through the palace halls and lowlife dives of Florence, in search of an elusive, almost mythical villain. It would be a perilous journey, to say the least: before they were finished, Preston would be forcibly expelled from Italy, and Spezi would be incarcerated as a potential accessory to the Monster murders. Clearly, they were stepping on some important toes! The Monster of Florence reads like fast-paced fiction, no surprise really, since Preston is a first-rate novelist (The Codex, Blasphemy), and Spezi is a well-respected journalist. That the story is true lends an edge to it that is rarely achieved in fiction.
Note: The Monster of Florence is not the first book devoted to this subject – one of the prosecutors wrote a lengthy tome on the subject and Thomas Harris reputedly used the story as inspiration for his best-selling Hannibal, in which everyone's favorite carnivorous villain relocated to Florence to continue his malevolent career. Even the aforementioned Magdalen Nabb penned a novel also titled The Monster of Florence, in which Marshal Guarnaccia of the Florence Carabinieri attempts to show that the man accused of the crimes could not be the real perpetrator. Next comes Academy-Award winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie's (The Usual Suspects) take on the Monster; he purchased the film rights to Preston and Spezi's novel this spring.