The Monster of Florence
Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi, 2008
Grand Central Publishing
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. (From the publisher.)
• Where—Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
• Education—B.A., Pomona College
• Currently—live in both Maine and in New Mexico
Douglas Preston was born in 1956 in Cambridge, MA, was raised in nearby Wellesley (where, by his own admission, he and his brothers were the scourge of the neighborhood!), and graduated from Pomona College in California with a degree in English literature.
Preston's first job was as a writer for the American Museum of Natural History in New York—an eight year stint that led to the publication of his first book, Dinosaurs in the Attic and introduced him to his future writing partner, Lincoln Child, then working as an editor at St. Martin's Press. The two men bonded, as they worked closely together on the book. As the project neared completion, Preston treated Child to a private midnight tour of the museum, an excursion that proved fateful. As Preston tells it, "...in the darkened Hall of Late Dinosaurs, under a looming T. Rex, Child turned to [me] and said: 'This would make the perfect setting for a thriller!'" Their first collaborative effort, Relic, would not be published until 1995, by which time Preston had picked up stakes and moved to Santa Fe to pursue a full-time writing career.
In addition to writing novels (The Codex, Tyrannosaur Canyon) and nonfiction books on the American Southwest (Cities of Gold, Ribbons of Time), Preston has collaborated with Lincoln Child on several post-Relic thrillers. While not strictly a series, the books share characters and events, and the stories all take place in the same universe. The authors refer to this phenomenon as "The Preston-Child Pangea."
Preston divides his time between New Mexico and Maine, while Child lives in New Jersey—a situation that necessitates a lot of long-distance communication. But their partnership (facilitated by phone, fax, and email) is remarkably productive and thoroughly egalitarian: They shape their plots through a series of discussions; Child sends an outline of a set of chapters; Preston writes the first draft of those chapters, which is subsequently rewritten by Child; and in this way the novel is edited back and forth until both authors are happy. They attribute the relatively seamless surface of their books to the fact that "[a]ll four hands have found their way into practically every sentence, at one time or another."
In between, Preston remains busy. He is a regular contributor to magazines like National Geographic, The New Yorker, Natural History, Smithsonian, Harper's, and Travel & Leisure, and he continues with varied solo literary projects. Which is not to say his partnership with Lincoln Child is over. Fans of the bestselling Preston-Child thrillers can be assured there are bigger and better adventures to come.
• Douglas Preston counts among his ancestors the poet Emily Dickinson, the newspaperman Horace Greeley, and the infamous murderer and opium addict Amasa Greenough.
• His brother is Richard Preston, the bestselling author of The Hot Zone, The Cobra Event, The Wild Trees, and other novels and nonfiction narratives.
• Preston is an expert horseman and a member of the Long Riders Guild.
• He is also a National Geographic Society Fellow, has traveled extensively around the world, and contributes archaeological articles to many magazines.
From a 2005 Barnes & Noble interview:
• My first job was washing dishes in the basement of a nursing home for $2.10 an hour, and I learned as much about the value of hard work there as I ever did later."
• I need to write in a small room—the smaller the better. I can't write in a big room where someone might sneak up behind my back."
• My hobbies are mountain biking, horseback riding and packing, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, camping, cooking, and skiing.
• When asked what book most influenced his life or career as a writer, here is his response:
I would have to say the novel War and Peace influenced me more than any other book. This greatest of novels demonstrated to me the enormous power of literature and fired me up with a desire to become a writer, to participate in what I considered then to be the greatest of all endeavors.
(Author bio and interview by Barnes & Noble.)
The most memorable scene captures the collateral damage every murder inflicts.... Preston is indeed a stranger in a strange land.... Hard as this book is on the Italian legal system, a deep love for Italy, Italians and Italian culture permeates it. Particularly on the part of Preston, who often sounds like a man locked out of paradise.
Seattle Post Intelligencer
One of the most fascinating criminal cases in recent memory.... A vivid look at a largely close society, with elaborate mores and convoluted history, and a Byzantine justice system to match.... The perfect summer page turner—enough grim details to satisfy those fascinated with serial killer lore, enough twists and turns to engross those who are drawn to police procedures, as well as a chilling story of what happens when a writer becomes identified with a murder investigation in the eyes of the authorities.
New Orleans Time-Picayune
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.
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
(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.
In 2000, Preston, the best-selling coauthor of thrillers with Lincoln Child (e.g., The Relic) moved to Florence, Italy, to research a new mystery and fell headlong into the case of the Monster of Florence. Between 1968 and 1985, seven couples had been murdered in their cars in secluded lovers' lanes in and around Florence. (The murders took place near Preston's 14th-century farmhouse.) Intrigued, Preston teamed up with Italian journalist and "Monsterologist" Spezi to write an article-and became part of the story. The investigation of these serial murders had taken on a surreal edge, with wild conspiracy theories involving satanic cults being seriously considered by desperate investigators. At one point, Spezi himself was accused of the murders, while Preston was accused of planting evidence and even suspected of being an American spy. Eventually, the authors came to believe they knew the identity of the Monster, but nothing has been proven. Truth is truly stranger than fiction, as lives are destroyed, reputations are ruined, and evidence is manufactured to fit the suspect-of-the-month. Preston fans and true-crime fans are sure to be riveted. Recommended for public libraries.
Talk about your knotty true-crime situations! Officially, the investigation “grinds on with no end in sight,” having claimed one more victim—Spezi’s peace of mind. — Mike Tribby
Meticulous account of the collaboration between American thriller author Preston (Blasphemy, 2008, etc.) and Italian journalist Spezi to plumb a long-unsolved series of murders. Between 1974 and 1985, seven couples were killed while having sex in parked cars in the hills around Florence, Preston learned shortly after he moved to Italy in August 2000. One of those double homicides occurred in an olive grove next to the stone farmhouse he had just moved into with his family. Preston's informant was Spezi, who had covered the serial killings and dubbed their perpetrator "the Monster of Florence." Italian authorities had charged various men with one or more of the murders. Some had been brought to trial; one had been convicted but acquitted on appeal. Looking back to a seemingly unrelated killing in 1968, Spezi believed he had determined the identity of the actual killer, and Preston bought his theory. The pair began to write a book outlining their ideas, and the Italian authorities retaliated by harassing them. In February 2006, Preston was interrogated by a police captain who accused him and Spezi of planting false evidence, then essentially told the American to get out of Italy and not come back. Spezi was arrested on April 7, 12 days before Dolci Colline di Sangue was slated to be published, accused not only of obstructing justice but of somehow being involved in the Monster of Florence murders. Three weeks later, a judicial tribunal exonerated him of all charges and he was released. The police detective and prosecutor responsible for Preston's interrogation and Spezi's arrest, as well as mishandling the serial-killing investigation, are awaiting trial on charges of abuse of office. With so many characters and so many theories about the case, the book is sometimes difficult to follow, and Preston's flat prose does little to help. He is a likable narrator, however, and his commitment to untrammeled press freedom is inspiring. A cautionary saga about how the criminal-justice system can spin out of control.
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