Virgin £14.99 (332pp) £13.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 889
The Monster of Florence, By Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi
Friday 27 February 2009
After moving to Florence to write a novel, the American crime writer Douglas Preston made contact with Mario Spezi, a celebrated local crime reporter, to help him understand how Italian policemen tick. The novel went nowhere, but thanks to his friendship with Spezi he found himself with an inside track on the investigation into the horrific "Monster of Florence" murders.
Between 1968 and 1985 eight couples were murdered in the countryside near Florence after making love in their cars. By the time Preston arrived in 2000, Spezi was the world authority on the crimes. He was first on the scene of one murder, and on first-name terms with everyone involved. Every time police got a likely monster behind bars, another couple would be butchered.
Spezi developed his own ideas. The key was the murder weapon: the same pistol each time. An anonymous tip, and a lucky mistake in the forensic department, enabled the police to discover that the same weapon had been used to kill a married woman and her lover in their car in 1968. That had seemed an open-and-shut case of marital jealousy, for which the cuckolded husband was serving life. But it was more complicated. Police began to believe that the monster was somehow linked to the Sardinian immigrant who had been jailed for the crime.
Spezi thought the same, but felt the police had failed to pursue that line with sufficient rigour. The man he believes, for persuasive reasons, to be the monster - named, pictured and interviewed in this book - only came briefly within the frame. The last murder was committed in 1985 but, lacking a culprit, the investigation continued to steam ahead under different chiefs, becoming increasingly baroque and bizarre.
A seedy farmer called Pietro Pacciani who had murdered his wife's lover and been jailed for raping his daughters was convicted of the murders, but later acquitted for lack of evidence. A new investigator claimed that a satanic conspiracy was behind the crimes, the "evidence" produced by a psychic. The case fell victim to Italy's most popular pastime, "dietrologia", or conspiracy theory. Prosecutors fed fantastic theories to grateful journalists; the banal truth was the last thing on anyone's mind.
Spezi and Preston took a stand against this nonsense, provoking the ire of prosecutor Giuliano Mignini (also the man prosecuting Amanda Knox for the murder of Meredith Kercher). Mignini put Preston under investigation and Spezi in jail, claiming insanely that Spezi himself was the monster and confining him to isolation for five days. Their gripping story gives a deeper insight into the murky workings of Italian justice than any book in English for some time.
Peter Popham is Rome correspondent of 'The Independent'
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
- 2 The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 3 Danish TV reporter is all business up top, all party down below
- 4 Ross Burden dead: MasterChef and Ready Steady Cook star, dies aged 45
- 5 Businessman charged £75 for three small bottles of water in London hotel
Secret Cinema: Why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Top Gear Burma episode breached Ofcom rules over Jeremy Clarkson's racial slur
Game of Thrones season 4 blooper reel unveiled at Comic-Con 2014
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 teaser trailer sees Katniss lead rebellion against the Capitol
The Simpsons Family Guy trailer: First look at crossover episode after Comic-Con debut
The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace