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The Monster of Florence
Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
Grand Central Publishing 2008
336 pages Hardcover

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi is an unbelievable read! As if the title is not enough, the cover photo of the contorted bodies and agonized faces of Giambologna's The Rape of the Sabine Women repulses and torments the senses before the first page is turned. Deeply disturbing and not for the faint of heart, The Monster of Florence is not the stuff of mystery novels but a chilling true story.

This Douglas Preston novel takes place in mesmerizingly beautiful Florence; an area seeped in history, a proud and fierce culture, and the rich splendor of the Renaissance that inspires awe and a longing to be enveloped by its romance and magic.

It is in the idyllic Italian countryside where young lovers are senselessly ambushed by a bold and depraved serial killer who strikes terror in the heart of the population and eludes capture for decades.

At times, Preston and Spezi ‘s The Monster of Florence reads like a documentary. Sorting through the infinitely complex number of participants, theories, and investigations can be a confusing challenge to the memory. However, the authors kindly provide not only a timeline but a list of players with brief synopses of their roles, a comprehensive index, and a selection of photographs that underscore the reality of the crimes.

As this real life mystery builds it becomes an intense, evocative drama that affects the reader at unexpected results. It shocks and appalls as the authors detail not only the nature and interconnectedness of the crimes but years long investigations fraught with politics, turmoil, and serious errors of deadly consequences. Eventually, the authors themselves are targeted by the police.

If The Monster of Florence was purely fiction, the reader would be begging for neatness and clarity, thinking that Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi had gone overboard by including too many red herrings, wildly exaggerating the incompetence of the Italian investigative and judicial system, and using skewed logic to formulate truly outlandish and unbelievable theories to fuel extreme public paranoia.

However this novel is the epitome of truth being ultimately stranger than fiction with reality being not so cut and dried and infinitely more interesting.

Preston and Spezi deserve medals for their bravery and endurance and praise for teir skill and tenacity, organizing volumes of confusing, discordant, and strange information into a comprehensive, often exciting, and darkly fascinating book.

A story to remember, The Monster of Florence chills with the realization that monsters walk among us and the existence of evil extends well beyond the scope of a serial killer.