One lazy Saturday afternoon three years ago I accidentally stumbled upon a used book sale in the basement of a local church. Of the five books I purchased that afternoon, sadly only one I’ve gotten around to read. That is, until now. Last week, feeling ambitious I grabbed one of those I books I bought three years ago and went to work reading it. For my reading pleasure I selected Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi’s 2008 best seller The Monster of Florence. Despite not being a fan of true crime writing, after reading only a few pages I quickly found myself sucked into The Monster of Florence. Before I knew it, the half-dozen or so other books I had been reading were soon pushed aside as Preston and Spezi’s book became my sole reading project. Alas, it was all worth it because as you might have guessed, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Monster of Florence could be seen as two books in one. The first book tells of a brutal series of serial murders spanning a 17 year period and Florentine crime journalist Mario Spezi’s frustrating efforts to find the killer(s). The second book begins with American novelist Douglas Preston and family’s move to Florence so Preston can live the life of an expat writer. While living in Italy he becomes friends with Spezi and later the two of them embark upon a joint quest to solve the mystery of the murders. Needless to say their efforts are not appreciated by the local authorities. After first being harassed by Florentine officials, later both men are slapped with criminal charges: Preston with obstructing justice and Spezi for being the actual murderer.
To me this fascinating and enjoyable book is not just about a series of unsolved murders. Besides serving up a colorful array of real life but larger than life personalities, it’s also a biting expose of Italian society. Though the eyes of Preston and Spezi, I’ve come to see the nation of Italy in a whole new light. With its chaotic politics, corrupt and capricious legal system, regional antagonisms and national love of wild conspiracy theories Italy resembles less like a modern European democracy and longtime NATO member and more like fractious banana republic. This of course makes the country all that more interesting. And worth reading about.
With The Monster of Florence finally read, I’m back to reading everything else I was reading before being sidetracked. With Ross King’s Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power as well as David Kertzer’s Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes’ Secret Plot to Capture Rome from the New Italian State back in my reading rotation, over the next month or so there’s a good chance you’ll see additional books set in or dealing with Italy featured on this blog.