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The Monster of Florence [Paperback]

Douglas Preston , Mario Spezi
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 25 2009
In the tradition of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, Douglas Preston weaves a captivating account of crime and punishment in the lush hills of Florence, Italy.





Douglas Preston fulfilled a lifelong dream when he moved with his family to a villa in Florence. Upon meeting celebrated journalist Mario Spezi, Preston was stunned to learn that the olive grove next to his home had been the scene of a horrific double murder committed by one of the most infamous figures in Italian history. A serial killer who ritually murdered fourteen young lovers, he has never been caught. He is known as the Monster of Florence.





Fascinated by the tale, Preston began to work with Spezi on the case. Here is the true story of their search to uncover and confront the man they believe is the Monster. In an ironic twist of fate that echoes the dark traditions of the city's bloody history, Preston and Spezi themselves became targets of a bizarre police investigation.





With the gripping suspense of Preston's bestselling novels, THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE tells a remarkable and harrowing chronicle of murder, mutilation, suicide, and vengeance-with Preston and Spezi caught in the middle.



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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. United in their obsession with a grisly Italian serial murder case almost three decades old, thriller writer Preston (coauthor, Brimstone) and Italian crime reporter Spezi seek to uncover the identity of the killer in this chilling true crime saga. From 1974 to 1985, seven pairs of lovers parked in their cars in secluded areas outside of Florence were gruesomely murdered. When Preston and his family moved into a farmhouse near the murder sites, he and Spezi began to snoop around, although witnesses had died and evidence was missing. With all of the chief suspects acquitted or released from prison on appeal, Preston and Spezi's sleuthing continued until ruthless prosecutors turned on the nosy pair, jailing Spezi and grilling Preston for obstructing justice. Only when Dateline NBC became involved in the maze of mutilated bodies and police miscues was the authors' hard work rewarded. This suspenseful procedural reveals much about the dogged writing team as well as the motives of the killers. Better than some overheated noir mysteries, this bit of real-life Florence bloodletting makes you sweat and think, and presses relentlessly on the nerves. (June 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Remarkable true-crime story...passionately describes the investigations gone wrong....Preston knows how to load his storytelling with intriguing evidence and damning details. His feverish style keeps the reader turning with the hope of uncovering the killer's identity."—USA TODAY

"Preston's account of the crimes is lucid and mesmerizing."—TIME Magazine

"Suspenseful...reveals much about the dogged writing team as well as the motives of the killers....this bit of real-life Florence bloodletting makes you sweat and think, and presses relentlessly on the nerves."—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)

"As taut and tense as any of the author's bestselling thrillers...fascinating, stomach-churning...nerve-tingling action and vivid writing...The Monster of Florence is a gripping tale, filled with shocking crimes, boldly drawn characters, and the careening suspense of the ultimate whodunit."—DALLAS MORNING NEWS

"The co-authors expertly and entertainingly guide the reader though an epic, colorful cast of characters and the stranger-than-fiction machinations of a Byzantine Italian judicial system."—Washington Post

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do not - I repeat - DO NOT... May 2 2010
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
...be either the victim or perpetrator a crime in Italy, particularly in Tuscany.

I'll leave others to judge the writing of the book. I thought it was good, not great. What I WAS left with was the notion of the complete insanity of the Italian police and judicial systems.

Preston moved to Tuscany in the early 00's with his family to write and enjoy living abroad. Under the Tuscan Sun, and all that. While there, he learned about a series of killings that took place in and around Florence. They were all double homicides of couples parked in Lovers' Lanes in the hills near the city. One killing a year, usually during the summer months, beginning in the late 1960's and ending in the mid-1980's.

Preston and a newspaper reporter friend, Mario, teamed up to write a book about the killings. These murders had been investigated by various branches of the Florence police and the Italian government police and a whole bunch of suspects, ranging from village idiots to Sardinian bandits to physicians and pharmacists had been arrested and tried over the years for these murders. Most of those who were brought to trial were victims themselves, victims of the ineptness of the police system and feuds between branches of the Italian judicial system.

If lives hadn't been lost and ruined in the years since the murders began, the book would read as an amusing farce, reminiscent of an Inspector Clouseau movie.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Monsters of Tuscany July 24 2010
Format:Hardcover
This book is definatley not my typical genre but I saw it on a 'Best Summer Reads' table and decided to give it a try. Wow . . . what a in-depth look into a famous Italian murder trial, and all the drama surrounding it, not to mention the Italian justice system itself. I echo another reviewers sentiment "never get arrested in Tuscany". Amen to that. Writing itself was pretty good, but it's the story itself that drives this particular book. I found myself constantly googling the characters just to satisfy myself that they did/do, in fact, exsist. A must read for summer, especially if you like crime novels, and even if you don't (I didn't think I did either). Creepy to think this crime is still unsolved, especially after all this effort into the case.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars true life thriller! May 11 2010
Format:Paperback
A well-written non-fiction thriller! I couldn't put this book down, but not only that - it intrigued me so much that I was constantly researching it on the internet to see all the other accounts of the murders. There is an episode of NBC dateline that covers a lot of the material, and also apparently Tom Cruise bought the movie rights to it and is producing a hollywood film about it due out next year!
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  392 reviews
390 of 406 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stranger than fiction June 10 2008
By Henry W. Wagner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In the annals of crime, the case of the "Monster of Florence" (the name Italian journalist Mario Spezi, one of the co-authors, and one of the key players in the case and this book, gave the killer) is truly one of the strangest. Starting in 1974, and continuing through 1985, seven couples were brutally murdered in the secluded lovers' lanes located in the hills surrounding the city of Florence, Italy. Still unsolved to this day, the crimes captured the horrified attention and imagination of the Italian people, and consumed enormous resources--nearly one hundred thousand men were investigated and more than a dozen arrested during the course of various inquiries into the crimes. Per Douglas Preston's introduction, the investigation "has been like a malignancy, spreading backward in time and outward in space, metastasizing into different cities and swelling into new investigations, with new judges, police, and prosecutors, more suspects, more arrests, and many more lives ruined."

Not merely a recounting of those grisly crimes and endless investigations, The Monster of Florence (hereafter TMOF) is also an engrossing biographical piece, detailing the toll the case took on both its authors, who, in one of the stranger twists in a case replete with strange twists, become the focus of the ongoing police investigation. Thus, in a plot complication worthy of Alfred Hitchcock, the reporters became part of the very story they are covering--after his home is ransacked in a search, Spezi is subsequently arrested, and his collaborator, American crime novelist Preston, is harshly interrogated by the authorities. In a movie, the protagonists would have been able to clear their names by dramatically unmasking the real killer, unearthing a piece of key evidence at the last moment. Real life, however, proves to a bit more complicated, and certainly more bizarre.

The back cover copy of the advance reading copy of TMOF compares it to John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City. The comparison is apt, but only to a point, as both these non-fiction works feel more like novels. TMOF, on the other hand, feels more like the product of journalists than novelists (certainly not surprising, given the backgrounds of its respective creators), calling to mind books like Jimmy Breslin's outstanding .44, or Vincent Bugliosi's memorable Helter Skelter. That's not to say it's any less gripping because of that tendency; in fact, in might have made the book all the more immediate and enthralling, because, in this instance, the strange facts in this case alone are enough to capture and hold any reader's attention.
147 of 153 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A chilling tale of true evil June 23 2008
By Rebecca Huston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Recently, I seem to be reading a lot of books centered in and around the Italian city of Florence, treasured for centuries as the birthplace of the Renaissance. Everywhere there is art to behold, from paintings, sculpture and to architecture, and tourists crowding the city for the galleries and shopping. To the casual observer, it may just seem like a slice of heaven on earth.

But long-term residents know better. Between 1968 and 1985 eight double murders occurred, all of young lovers, with the female member of the pair brutally mutilated. One of the first reporters to hear of the crime was Mario Spezi, and through the years, he followed the crimes and the many stories of just who the Monster could be. He carefully assembled his notes, and wondered along with everyone else as to just who the killer was, dubbed The Monster by the press and the authorities.

American author Douglas Preston traveled to Italy with his wife and two of his children in 2000, living in a farmhouse near Florence. He was busy working on a new mystery novel, but kept getting sidetracked by the mystery of the Monster. A mutual friend introduced him to Mario Spezi, and very soon both men were good friends and investigating the riddle of the murders. Over the years they kept at the mystery, and soon they were discovering that the truth was very different than what the police and the carabinieri were saying what happened...

The narrative is broken up into two parts, the first half of the book centered around Spezi, and the general investigation, and the trials and suspects that well, weren't that credible. Spezi kept writing about the case, but the public and the press all seemed to want the more sensationalistic approach -- including rumours of a satanic cult being responsible, and a common sort of doorstop found in Tuscan homes actually being a 'device to communicate with the infernal regions.' Even a report from the FBI that contradicted the notions that were being reported did nothing to slow down the fantastic, and rather crackpot ideas.

The second half of the book, told from Douglas Preston's point of view, detailing his meeting with Spezi, and with a notable aristocrat of Florence, and his own story. Unlike the first half, this one does have a bit of humour here and there to lighten things up, mostly centered around being a very naive American and trying to learn the language.

About page two hundred or so, the story starts to run off the rails. Spezi has been sparring with the local investigator in the case, Michele Giuttari and Judge Guiliano Mignini, and in a very weird twist, have both Spezi and Preston indicted in the case.

Here is where my blood ran cold, as the reader gets to find out that not only the Italian judicial system impossibly corrupt but that many of the rights that Americans take for granted -- a fair and honest hearing, the right to have an attorney present, to know what you're being charged with and having access to the same evidence that the police and prosecutors do -- well, they simply don't exist in Italy. You can simply be denounced, the police can toss you into jail and there you can rot until they decide to speak to you.

Mario Spezi would go through the worry and humiliation of a prison stay and trial. Douglas Preston would be questioned and threatened with prison, and when he was freed, decided that the best thing to do would be to leave Italy with his family as soon as possible.

What finally happened is a shocker. For Americans, secure in the thought that we have the right to know, to be able to face our accusers openly, this is a very rude awakening. As to the real identity of the Monster, there are hints as to who he might be, but I fear that the truth will never be known.

A collection of black and white photos give faces to the principal players in the story, along with a map of Florence, with the sites of the murders marked. An index is included as well.

A warning -- the descriptions of the murders are brief, but very graphic, so this story is not for the faint of heart. What I came away with from this story was a sense of sorrow for the victim's families, a great deal of anger at the level of incompetence of the Italian officials, and thanking god that I live in a country where law at least has a fighting chance. Sometimes.

Four stars overall, and recommended, but only for those who enjoy true crime stories. Not for the squeamish.
96 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real life suspense makes for perfect summer read June 10 2008
By Christina Lockstein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi is a non-fiction book with more twists and turns that most suspense novels. When Preston moved to Florence, Italy in 2000 he met journalist Spezi and learned about a series of murders from the 1970s and 80s that Spezi covered for his newspaper. Young couples were murdered while parking in their cars in the picturesque countryside by a vicious killer. The authorities had been spinning their wheels for over 30 years and the investigation was caught up in political machinations. When Preston started investigating the crimes himself for a newspaper article, the spotlight suddenly shone on him, as well as Spezi, who soon became accused of committing the murders himself. Preston lays the foundation for his case carefully, brick by brick leading the reader to the same conclusion that he and Spezi reached about the identity of the killer whom the local police refuse to consider as a suspect. The book is a dark look into the twisted maneuverings of Italian politics and how they tried to muzzle freedom of speech. It's a true crime book with a twist that makes it impossible to put down. Add this title to your summer must read list!
63 of 74 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do Not - I repeat - Do Not... June 18 2008
By Jill Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
...be either the victim or perpetrator a crime in Italy, particularly in Tuscany.

I'll leave others to judge the writing of the book. I thought it was good, not great. What I WAS left with was the notion of the complete insanity of the Italian police and judicial systems.

Preston moved to Tuscany in the early 00's with his family to write and enjoy living abroad. Under the Tuscan Sun, and all that. While there, he learned about a series of killings that took place in and around Florence. They were all double homicides of couples parked in Lovers' Lanes in the hills near the city. One killing a year, usually during the summer months, beginning in the late 1960's and ending in the mid-1980's.

Preston and a newspaper reporter friend, Mario, teamed up to write a book about the killings. These murders had been investigated by various branches of the Florence police and the Italian government police and a whole bunch of suspects, ranging from village idiots to Sardinian bandits to physicians and pharmacists had been arrested and tried over the years for these murders. Most of those who were brought to trial were victims themselves, victims of the ineptness of the police system and feuds between branches of the Italian judicial system.

If lives hadn't been lost and ruined in the years since the murders began, the book would read as an amusing farce, reminiscent of an Inspector Clouseau movie.
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping and disturbing read June 16 2008
By Robert Busko - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Beginning in 1974 and continuing to 1985 a series of gruesome murders took place near Florence, Italy. Usually murdering the young men first, the killer would then kill the young women at his leisure and then mutilate the body. Though the police sought to catch the Monster of Florence, the name given to the killer, they made little head way. Mario Spezi, an Italian journalist, covered the crimes and was witness to the police incompetence surrounding the murder investigation.

In 2000 American author Douglas Preston moved himself and his family to a small 14th century farm house literally across the road from an ancient olive grove near Florence. Little did they know the background of that charming olive grove. Settling themselves into the local life, the Preston family thought they'd found the ultimate happiness; after all, it had been their shared dream of moving to Italy. That is, until Douglas Preston became involved with Mario Spezi and the murder investigation of the Monster of Florence. On their own, Spezi and Preston pursued their own line of investigation ultimately leading to a confrontation with a person they suspected of the murders. Without giving away to bank, in the end both Preston and Spezi become suspects in the killings; Spezi is suspected of being the killer, and Preston with aiding and abetting. Preston was told in a pretty direct manner to get out of town or else. Spezi wasn't that lucky.

The Monster of Florence has everything you could ask for in a nonfiction murder story. Its all here. The Monster of Florence is also a window into the Italian police processes and very enlightening.

I highly recommend.

Peace always.
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