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
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.
I did enjoy reliving my time in