Friday, August 1, 2008

A dark and disturbing preoccupation…..

Counting down two weeks before I wrap up my last consulting engagement at the world’s largest mining equipment manufacturer (every boy’s dream – being surrounded by bright yellow big diggers, six stories tall). Then, a week of unwinding, including visiting a friend in Philly who started at Wharton and NYC to see a cousin, who is stateside for a month. Then London, mid-August! Found out that I’ll make my bonus which takes a major chunk out of my year one loans, leaving me with a little more travel/fun money. Woohoo!

I’m in the habit of reading several books at the same time. Most recently I’ve switched between Walk On, which chronicles U2’s foray into social justice and political activism, Making of a Leader which examines the incubatory stages in the development of a leader and The Monster of Florence, which I just finished.

Frankly, after reading The Monster of Florence, I creeped myself out. I looked back over my reading list and have discovered a disturbing preoccupation. I’ve lately been riveted by books with romantic but dark underpinnings. These tend to be books like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Devil in the White City and The Mistress of the Art of Death – all of which juxtapose grisly elements of the macabre and the dark side of human nature against idyllic settings.

For those of you grew up in Italy, il Mostro di Firenze was likely something that invaded your cultural existence over two decades. For the rest of us, our limited exposure to The Monster of Florence is through Hannibal where Thomas Harris used gory details of the real Monster’s fiendish exploits to wreak havoc on our psyches, causing many sleepless nights. The real Monster was responsible for the ritualistic murder of fourteen lovers in the Tuscan countryside, the destruction of the lives of many innocent suspects and the exposure of the somewhat corrupt underbelly of the Italian justice system.

The book itself is split in two halves with the first half presenting facts in chronological fashion, as recorded by Mario Spezi. Spezi is the book’s co-author and a crime beat reporter who covered the Monster case over two decades for La Nazione, a leading Florentine newspaper. Spezi himself is one of those characters one can find only in exquisite crime fiction from a previous era – complete with Boagartesque fedora, Gaulouise hanging from lower lip while “downing a single shot of espresso with one sharp movement”.

The second half describes the collaboration between Spezi and New Yorker writer Douglas Preston (of fictional FBI agent Pendergast series fame) to uncover the real Monster who the authorities have been unable to identify in spite of an international effort involving the FBI. In their effort to nab the Monster and quell public outrage, the authorities serially arrest and convict a motley cast of suspects - noble scions, doctors, cult members, pimps, prostitutes, mental patients, goat herders and Sardinian immigrants, using each conviction to systematically propel their individual careers. You can’t turn a page without encountering prosecutors who gain their best intelligence from eccentric psychics and conspiracy theorists, inspectors who string together flimsy evidence to frame the most improbable of suspects, judges who award warrants to tap phone lines at will and carbinieri who conduct unwarranted house searches. Shake the book hard enough, and from your bound volume will fall Van Dyke beard sporting Counts hailing from Rennaissance-era Florentine families such as the Frescobaldis and Capponis (and their striking American wives).

Conspicuously absent is a profile of the killer, which forces you to step in his shoes and wonder what kind of person would do such things. This for me was the disturbing part. Preston and Spezi do manage to uncover the real killer, providing the most coherent evidence based theory presented in the book. The theory being counter to one proposed by the authorities, lands them in trouble, Spezi being summarily arrested and Preston being made persona non grata on Italian soil.

I did enjoy reliving my time in Florence through the book. In spite of the foreboding subject matter, Preston does a great job of drawing you into the Tuscan environs and painting an accurate picture of Florentine life. I’m suddenly nostalgic about Florence, and want to be there again soon. Now back to filling out LBS forms for Orientation week, finding a doctor in London, emailing other LBS admits and preparing for Flat Hunter’s Pub Crawl.


Inga Maria said...

You are one fun blogger

.... you know that what kind of books one has say´s a lot about them. Just realized this now that I moved and all my books are on display (scary) ... the major categories are Schoolbooks (not too bad), Economics (the very fucked up kind), Poetry books, Books on Art, Books on Sex, Chick lit, and the usual New York Times Bestsellers. I think I might have to reconsider the location of these or just enjoy the awkwardness when people start reading the titles ...

Any how, I´m coming back on the 9th your are leaving on the 12th right ?

Inga Maria said...

ohh totally forgot self help and how-to section