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May 02, 2013

Book Recommendation: The Monster of Florence

I'm halfway through this great true-crime book, which I finally began reading after having had it recommended to me a half-dozen times.

It's really great. The murders themselves -- which took place between 1974 (or maybe 1968, sort of) and 1985 -- are actually the least interesting part of the book. Despite those murders being particularly depraved-- the Monster of Florence is Italy's own Jack the Ripper. His MO is to ambush couples having sex in lovers lane, shoot both of them in the head with a .22, then drag the female body out into a clearing and sexually dismember her.

That's the least interesting part. I don't find psychopaths interesting. They're all the same impotent, inadequate, failed dullard, doing the same goddamn things to compensate for their sexual problems.

But more interesting is... well, everything. For one thing, the book's a solid travelogue about Florence and its environs. The history of the city is briefly digested, from its role in basically giving birth to the Renaissance to also giving birth to a violent backlash against the Renaissance.

And then there's the weird subcultures. Here's an example: When I first started reading I wondered, "How the heck can he find so many people (he killed 14, seven different couples) having sex in cars?" Well, there's an answer to that. In Florence, children -- adult children, I mean -- continue living with their parents until they're married. And they marry late. So there is a long period, say from age 17 to 27, when adults have no place of their own, and no sexual privacy, but are still, as you'd imagine, having sex. So it's a widespread tradition that dates -- even among engaged persons -- will end parking on country roads and having sex.

Now, because of this custom of illicit activity in the country, another custom has become widespread: The "Indiana," "Indians" they're called in Italian, who creep quietly around in the night to... watch all the young people having sex in cars. These "Indiana" actually know each other and have dinner before their nightly outings, to talk about any sightings of "good cars" (cars where the more attractive women are having the more athletic sex) and share information about the best places to peep.

And finally, this illicit activity leads to a third one: There are also a group of people who follow the Indiana, in order to rob them of money and cameras, and also to take pictures of them, in order to blackmail them for cash. (Give me money, or I send this picture of you peeping to your wife or mother or the local police chief.)

And this is all going on in the quiet hills surrounding Florence, a city with the reputation of being a sleepy, boring backwater with a glorious past but noting going on in the present -- more or less a Museum City where nothing happens anymore.

So it's in this strange sexual ecosystem that the Monster pads around, murdering people.

And it just gets more and more interesting. Italy's a lovely place, but take this advice: Never be accused of committing a serious crime there. I'm not saying don't commit a serious crime; chances are, you'd get away with it. I'm saying don't be accused of committing a serious crime, especially if you're innocent, because that's when the Italian justice system seems to go into Berserker Mode to convict you. The clownshow of Italian justice is jaw-slackening stuff.

Add into that the medieval -- if that -- banditry of the Sardinian mountain clans and a local populace absolutely terrified of an audacious murderer that simply cannot be found, and the panics and paranoias that grip the area and DAs and head detectives who rely on the theories of shrieky, conspiratorial bloggers, pushing bizarre theories about aristocrats and doctors in Satanic Cults trading in female sexual organs (because the most psychic energy is contained in sexual organs from people killed at the point of orgasm, you know.... didn't you know that? I thought everyone knew that).

I'm only halfway through and I haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet. (The authors may or may not be threatened to be jailed unless they leave Italy and/or actually thrown in jail for daring to report on this insanity... by the DA pushing the Satanic Sex Cult Genital Trafficking theory of the case.)

Really a great book. I know that Preston and Spezi propose a suspect at the end, and I'm prepared to call bullshit on it (if he's guilty, why isn't he in jail?-- surely the Italians wouldn't mind convicting a guilty person every now and again), but I don't even care that the case is unsolved so I won't have any actual resolution about the mystery. The story itself is enough, even without an ending.

If You Don't Want To Buy The Book... Douglas Preston, the author here, wrote up an article about the crimes for The Atlantic.

I'd still recommend the book, wholeheartedly, but if you want to get a gist of it all then you can read this article for free. I sort of don't want to read the article because, spoilers.

That tip via @jmaniii56.

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posted by Ace at 01:48 PM

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