Between 1974 and 1985, seven couples were murdered in parked cars in the hills surrounding Florence. The police unearthed evidence dating back to a related 1968 crime, and the investigation has stretched forward to the present. Suspects in the case have included members of a clannish group of immigrants from the island of Sardinia, a “semiliterate” farmer who was tried and acquitted, and an as of now hypothetical, yet conniving, Florentine mastermind and his satanic sect.
Douglas Preston, a best-selling author of murder mysteries, moved with his family to Italy only to discover that one of these crimes had been committed just outside his Tuscan doorstep. Despite the spectacularly poor crime scene evidence, it was a mystery writer’s dream to stumble upon an unsolved murder. Preston quickly became acquainted with Mario Spezi, an Italian journalist who had covered the case for much of his career. As Preston writes in his July/August article “The Monster of Florence,” together the two writers “set off to find the truth.”
Preston’s account of the case is chock full of gory details and has a chilling page-turner of a plot, but it is not solely the stuff of sensational dime-store thrillers. Rather, “The Monster of Florence” is a real-life story about the myriad individuals swept up in the case and their clashes and collisions with one another. The investigation remains open to this day, and as the victims’ stories have to some extent faded into the past, the stakes for the individuals drawn into the investigation have only risen. The personalities Preston touches upon range from the flashy prosecutor Pier Luigi Vigna to the devastated mother of one of the victims to the tragicomical chain of suspects. Preston’s frank self-portrait and his portrayal of how he and Spezi themselves became mired in the investigation’s legal proceedings are the icing on the cake.
Douglas Preston (right) with co-author Mario Spezi at one of the murder sites
(Photo by Christine Preston)
Based on appearances, Preston and Spezi are not a twosome one would expect to find on the wrong side of the Italian law. Preston writes and speaks eloquently and emphatically—his responses to questions often best captured in interspersed italicizations. In photographs he wears a neat blazer or comfortable sweater and glasses that lend him a studious and earnest air. Spezi’s white hair and his own pair of nearly identical corrective lenses suggest a similar gentlemanly demeanor. Yet Preston found himself interrogated about his own possible involvement in the case and forced to leave Italy. Spezi was arrested and imprisoned for three weeks for his meddling. Did Preston and Spezi go too far with their theories? Did the chief inspector in the case overstep the limits of his authority?