Interview with Douglas Preston
Inspired by Actual Events:
Douglas Preston on “The Monster of Florence”
Interview by Joseph Badal for Suspense Magazine
When it comes to the highly popular, New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston, his long list of works predominantly fall under the category of fiction. (Perhaps most well-known is the suspense series he writes with Lincoln Child that follows one of the most celebrated fictional detectives of modern times, Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast.) However, with “The Monster of Florence: A True Story,” Douglas turned his focus on a very real life serial killer whose hunting grounds were based in the very beautiful, breathtaking destination of Florence, Italy.
While on a family trip, researching a novel that he was going to pen set in Italy, his path led him to the “desk” of Mario Spezi—crime reporter for the local newspaper. During their talks, Mario mentioned this infamous “monster” who Douglas, up until this moment, had been unaware. Asking to hear the details of the case, the author found himself completely compelled by the story. It was then that Spezi and Preston teamed up to bring about this nonfiction work that relates to a series of brutal murders that occurred between 1968 and 1985 attributed to this particular maniac.
Here, Douglas Preston talks about this work “inspired by actual events” that’s guaranteed to leave all readers breathless.
Joseph Badal (J.B.): Unlike most of your body of work, “The Monster of Florence” is a non-fiction book. It is a story about a serial killer who had operated in the Florence, Italy area for years. I understand that the inspiration for this book came to you during a family trip to Italy. Would you explain how you became aware of the killer?
Douglas Preston (D.P.): I was researching a novel set in Italy, and I wanted to find out how the police normally respond to the discovery of a murder victim. I met with Mario Spezi, the crime reporter for the local paper, who explained how the police and Carabinieri would deal with such a discovery. In the course of the conversation, Mario mentioned the case of the Monster of Florence, which he had covered for many years for La Nazione, the local Tuscan newspaper. I’d never heard of it and asked to hear the story. It floored me—it had to be possibly the strangest and most compelling case of a serial killer in the annals of crime. So I suggested we write about it together.
J.B.: What was the one thing about the story, as it was related to you, that initially inspired you to go down the road of researching the murders and the authorities’ investigations into them?
D.P.: What struck me most was the stark contrast between the ethereal loveliness of the Florentine countryside and the savagery of the murders committed there. The Monster struck young lovers in parked cars in the hills surrounding Florence, murdering them as they made love. The case had never been solved and it had become one of the longest and most expensive criminal investigations in Italian history. The Monster was Italy’s Jack the Ripper, only worse—and much more recent. It was still very much under active investigation.
J.B.: Tell us about how you reached out to Mario Spezi, the Italian journalist, who became your co-author of “The Monster of Florence.”
D.P.: After our first meeting, Mario and I became fast friends. He was a journalist of the old school, one of the finest reporters I’ve ever known, with the courage of a lion and a wickedly sharp pen. He passed away several years ago and I miss him greatly.
J.B.: At what point in your research did you come to the decision that “The Monster of Florence” had to be written?
D.P.: Right from the beginning, I knew this story had to be written. It had never been told in English and was virtually unknown to the English speaking world, although it was a story known to almost all Italians.
J.B.: During your research, you and Spezi became targets of the police investigation, to the point that the police had a vendetta against you. Please explain why you believe the authorities turned against you.
D.P.: Mario went on television in Italy, on one of the highest rated shows, and criticized the official police investigation. The criticism was extremely effective and it literally disproved beyond a doubt the police’s theory of the crime. Rather than admit their error, the police decided to try to discredit us. That was what triggered the vendetta.
J.B.: Please explain to our readers the connections between the investigation into the serial killer in “The Monster of Florence” and the Amanda Knox case.
D.P.: Guiliano Mignini was the corrupt prosecutor in the Monster case, and later prosecuted the Amanda Knox case. In both instances he claimed a Satanic cult was behind the crimes.
J.B.: Would you describe the actions the authorities took against you and Spezi?
D.P.: They broke into Mario’s apartment and seized his computers and archive on the Monster case. Later, they called me on my cell phone, demanded to know where I was, and came to detain me and subjected me to a lengthy interrogation, in Italian, with no lawyer present, in which they accused me of many crimes, including being an accessory to murder! I was then asked to leave the country. Following that, they arrested Mario and accused him of being a member of the Satanic cult which they claimed was behind the Monster killings. It was a tragicomedy of the highest order.
J.B.: From reading “The Monster of Florence,” the reader will conclude that you and Spezi are certain of the identification of the killer. Has anything happened since the book was published to cause you to change your mind about that?
D.P.: Nothing has happened to change our minds. When you put it all together, it leads to that one individual. Unfortunately, the police have no interest in pursuing our theory of the crime.
J.B.: In the scene where you and Spezi sit down with the killer in his home, I found myself holding my breath. It was one of the most intense reading experiences I have ever had. Please describe that experience here for our readers.
D.P.: As a journalist, I’ve interviewed many unusual people. But never have I interviewed anyone like him, who was so arrogant and self-assured and never stopped smiling, even when we accused him of being the Monster of Florence. He clearly enjoyed every minute of it. It was beyond chilling. And of course, his threat at the end—still delivered with a big smile—left us shaken.
J.B.: Among many accolades for “The Monster of Florence,” USA Today named it a Top True-Crime Book of All Time. Has the success of the book inspired you to want to write another true-crime story?
D.P.: No. Never. The Monster was unique. And to tell you the truth, the horror of that case and the sorrow and tragedy those murders delivered to the parents of the young people he so brutally killed, left me deeply shaken. I would never put myself through that experience again.
J.B.: Finally, please tell us what you’re working on now and when it will be released.
D.P.: I’m working on a thriller with Lincoln Child, entitled “Scorpion’s Tail,” which involves the mysterious discovery of an old corpse near the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
To learn more about Douglas Preston’s works, upcoming events, and new projects he’s currently working on, visit www.prestonchild.com.
To learn more about Joseph Badal’s works, upcoming events and more, check out his website: www.josephbadalbooks.com
Interview with Douglas Preston
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