Don’t ever get arrested in Italy is the short version of this book.
The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi was recommended by Richard Bacon on his radio programme during a discussion about the Meredith Kercher case. If you’ve been harbouring any lingering suspicions that Amanda Knox (convicted and then freed on appeal) might have been guilty, think again.
Don’t read on if you hate spoilers. Really.
Starting in 1968, a series of double murders in the hills around Florence terrified the local population. The victims were all, ahem, courting couples, and the bodies were frequently mutilated. The same gun was used in every murder, and some aspects were ritualistic. The second double killing was committed in 1974, but the police didn’t connect it to the case until much later, because it was a “chaotic” scene, in contrast to the “organised” and carefully posed scenes from later on.
A number of lead investigators and prosecutors have run the case over the years. If you’ve ever watched or read any Montalbano or Zen books, you’ll know something of how the Italian system works. It’s a bit like the French system, and the Italians have the same bizarre double police that the French have. Needless to say, their efficiency at gathering evidence and securing crime scenes leaves a lot to be desired. These guys aren’t like the CSIs you see in CSI. In fact, there’s a video of the investigation in the Kercher case that shows the police – on camera – dropping evidence on the floor, contaminating it.
There are two main theories about the Monster, although a large number of people end up being arrested and investigated. You can rot in an Italian jail for up to a year without even being charged, and there are a number of people who spend a long time in prison, lives destroyed, before being released. Some of them it’s hard to sympathise with because there is a suspicion that they do know who the killer is. But, code of silence and all that. There’s also the not-very-shocking news that the post-2001 anti-terror laws are being abused. What happened to, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear? Oh yeah: crock of shit, like it always has been.
The first killing, the 1968 one, is not really part of the pattern, except it serves as a model for the later ones. The time-line in the book has two earlier killings, which relate to two of the accused killers. The first Florentine killing seems to involve a group of Sicilians, who execute a woman and her lover as an act of jealous revenge on behalf of the woman’s husband, who actually confesses to the crime and serves time. The gun used in that killing, however, is used subsequently. First, in 1974 in a botched murder (the chaotic one), and then there’s a long gap before the next set of killings, in 1981.
Now, the authors here have a theory as to the identity of the killer, but the man in question has never been arrested or tried, although many of his relatives have. As I was reading, I came up with a theory of my own, which wasn’t mentioned in the book, so I’m assuming that there is information that would render my version of events impossible. My theory goes that there are actually three killers (or groups of killers), all related. The first murder was revenge, and the husband who confessed may have fired one of the shots, but not all of them, as the authors attest. The second killing would have been committed by the man identified herein by the authors, the son of one of the original group, who stole the gun from his father.
In the car for the 1968 killings was a sleeping child, six years old at the time, whose mind appears to have been shattered by the experience. In 1974, this child would have been 12, probably too young to commit that double murder (though maybe not, given the botched nature of the killings). But in 1981? This kid would have been old enough and strong enough, and possibly warped enough to be recreating the death scene of his mother and her lover over and over again.
But, as I said, this theory is not in the book, and probably for good reason (dates, alibis).
The book is in two halves. The first half deals with the Monster and his murders, and the main investigation, which ends in failure. The second half deals with the bizarre secondary investigation, driven in part by a deranged psychic and a prosecutor who comes up with a mad conspiracy theory involving satanic rituals and invented murders, body swaps, and an enormous cast of characters. The prosecutor and lead investigator of this case are not just gullible and potty, they’re vengeful and aggressive. Anyone who questions their investigation becomes part of it, including the authors of the book. Both of them are arrested, questioned, and accused of being part of the conspiracy. Shamefully (and depressingly, given that it probably happens in Britain and the USA as well) the anti-terror laws introduced after 9/11 are used to keep charges and interviews secret. Finally, when the Italian legal system has thoroughly embarrassed itself, the prosecutor and investigator themselves are charged with abuse of office.
But not before – and here is the amazing thing! – this same mad, vengeful and aggressive prosecutor has decided (with the help of that same deranged psychic blogger) that Amanda Knox, her boyfriend, and a third man had conspired together in a (yes) satanic ritual to murder Meredith Kercher, ignoring and contaminating the evidence, and ignoring the testimony of several witnesses who had seen a blonde man, known drug addict, that night washing blood off himself in a fountain, crying, “I killed her, I killed her.”
It’s a gripping read in its first half, and an eye-opening if slightly depressing read in its second. For Italians, it seems, there’s always a deeper meaning behind the first meaning, and belief in satanic rituals is never far away.
*May not be actual Italian