Written by: Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi
Published by: Hachette Audio
Douglas Preston, best known as the co-author of what has come to be known as the Pendergast series of novels (which kicked off with Relic), decided to move to Florence with his family. They had a nice villa so that Preston could work on one of his books and everything was peachy…until he ran into Mario Spezi, an Italian journalist, who told Preston that an olive grove by Preston’s villa had been host to a double homicide as part of the “Monster of Florence” case. The case, which I had never heard of and neither has Preston, involved a series of double murders committed by the titular serial killer. An uncaught serial killer, what’s more. Preston, intrigued, started collaborating with Spezi on a book about The Monster of Florence, only to wind up inadvertently clashing with the local authorities and fleeing the country with his co-author under arrest for being the Monster. Making matters more strange is that this meta-story which sounds like fiction is in fact true.
[ad#longpost]Both the weakness and stength of this book is that you think you’re getting a book, potentially a thriller, about The Monster and his history…and it becomes that plus what I read as an indictment of Italian police work. It’s a catalog of all the things that the authorities botched while trying to unravel the Monster case and the egos and greed that came to the fore when people starting writing books about it.
That’s not to say it’s not a fascinating listen–it is. It’s an example of an author getting sucked into his own book. And in the book itself, acknowledging that the whole thing is mental and he had no idea what was coming. As a result, a book that could have been yet another serial killer true crime bit is a compelling story and now going to be a motion picture. So I suppose the transition from true-crime to holy-shit-I’m-in-the-book doesn’t undermine the book, just changes it into something a lot more interesting.
The unabridged audiobook is about nine and a half hours across eight discs. The reader is Dennis Boutskaris and I didn’t have a problem with his reading at all–the only question I have is with his various Italian accents. I frankly haven’t met a lot of native Italian speakers chattering away at me in English, so I can’t if his accents are accurate or if it’s like a lot of actors trying to do a southern U.S. accent–sounds fake as hell and annoying to natives.
Closing out the set is a really lame interview with Preston. It’s not his fault at all, though. Listen, Hachette: next time you want to interview someone about their book, make sure the interviewer has read or listened to the actual book in question. The interviewer asks Preston really obvious questions like “Did you know about the Monster of Florence before moving to Florence?” And it’s made very, very clear at the beginning of the book that no, Preston admits he didn’t know and few people outside of Italy do. I couldn’t finish listening to it, it was so ridiculous. I don’t need an interviewer to give me Cliff Notes on the book I just finished listening to.
Beyond that, it’s a good listen, especially because it puts a twist on true crime and makes you feel a little less ghoulish, perhaps, than just listening straight up to info on a series of murders. Preston is no Simon Winchester when it comes to books on history, but he makes for a great bemused and bewildered protagonist.