Friday, August 8, 2008

Vanni, Vinci, Vigna

I was very excited to see that I had finally clawed my way to the top of the library holds list, and that The Monster of Florence was waiting for me to check out. Although not a British-related, I was extremely anxious to read the book. It is the story of a series of murders that happened in Florence, Italy from 1968-1984. The book started out quite promisingly, informing me of the startling fact that since young Italians generally lived at home with their parents and married relatively late, it was quite common for courting couples to have sex in cars parked in lonely, out of the way spots. Since this was common knowledge, it was also not unusual for the couples to be spied upon by "Peeping Toms." The Peeping Toms were in turn spied on by people who took photos of their skulking behavior and then blackmailed them to avoid potentially embarrassing revelations. While all of this voyeurism was going on, a serial killer was stalking the courting couples, shooting them and mutilating the females. Unfortunately, deciphering the Italian characters, whose names are as confusing as those in any Russian epic, turned out to be a dauting task. There were Stefanos and Salvatores, Vincis (numerous), Vignas and Vannis, Natalinos, Niccolos and Narduccis, and the double-threats of names like Pietro Pacciani and Francisco Ferri. And those are just the names of the people! Throw in the town names, which are similarly confusing, and it makes for a very difficult story to follow. The author of the book, an American journalist named Douglas Preston, moved to Italy and became very interested in the Monster case. He and an Italian journalist, Mario Spezi, investigated the story and eventually wrote articles and books on the case. The second part of the book concerns the odd harassment that Spezi experienced by publicly challenging the official police explanation for the crimes. The police, unable to solve the crimes, had concocted a weird conspiracy involving corpse switching, Satanic cults, and human sacrifice. The journalist Spezi makes a very convincing case when he names the suspect he believes is responsible for the crimes, but that person is still free (and oddly, apparently no longer killing), while several societal mis-fits (the author describes them as "quasi-illiterate inebriates of marginal intelligence") are currently serving long prison sentences for the crimes committed by the Monster.

I recently finished listening to the audio book One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, a follow up to the novel Case Histories. The events in One Good Turn take place two years after the end of Case Histories, and involve the same characters. I enjoyed the newer book much better than the first one, mainly because this story didn't jump around so much between past and present events. One Good Turn takes place in Edinburgh, and involves murder, guilty consciences, loneliness, immigration, and betrayal. After the climax of the story, there were several small chapters which attempted to tie up all the loose ends. The ending seemed to leave open the possibility for another novel featuring former detective Jackson Brodie and a possible new relationship.
Final Verdict for The Monster of Florence: Two Gherkins, for some interesting insights into the case, but overall confusing story

Final Verdict for Case Histories: Two Gherkins, for being an interesting mystery set in modern day Britain, but with generally unlikeable characters

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