Karen Valby
June 06, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Monster of Florence

Current Status
In Season
Douglas Preston, Mario Spezi
Grand Central Publishing
Nonfiction, Mystery and Thriller

We gave it an B

Best-selling suspense writer Douglas Preston stumbled onto the case of a lifetime when he moved to Florence on a lark in 2000. He befriended Mario Spezi, a renowned journalist for La Nazione who always wore a jaunty fedora and had a Gauloise cigarette dangling from his lips. Over endless rounds of espresso, Spezi told Preston about the Monster of Florence, a serial killer suspected of 14 murders who had stalked the Tuscan hills since 1974 pouncing on young lovers in their cars, killing them, then carving out the woman’s privates. Spezi, always the first with scoop, became known as the ”Monstrologer.” Together, the men believed they could unmask the culprit.

The Monster of Florence is divided into two parts: the backstory of the Monster and Spezi’s long history tracking him, then Preston’s increasingly obsessive involvement in the case. Unfortunately, the tightly calibrated suspense that marks the first half droops when Preston marches first-person onto the scene. The two men square off against an endless parade of boobs, from crooked cops to a clingy conspiracy theorist who insists that a satanic sect is behind the murders — and 9/11. The authors had every right to rail against the Italian justice system, but their breathless tone of righteous bluster sucks some of the life from their real-life thriller. B

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