Murder, Italian Style (Twofer Book Review)

Bookshelves: true-crime, in-the-news, investigative-journalism, italy, non-fiction

Well. If you have any doubt as to the guilt or innocence of Amanda Knox, you don’t even need to read a book about the Meredith Kercher murder. What you need to read about is the Monster of Florence, with the awareness that the same investigator/prosecutor/judge (one person serving all three functions, so much for “judicial impartiality”) on the Monster of Florence case was also presiding over Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede. When this idiot asshole gets a hard-on for a suspect or a theory, he will use the exact words of a conspiracy theorist as factual evidence and make up the stupidest shit you ever heard of just to win, going so far as to change the victim’s time of death to fit his pet theory, because heaven forbid a jurist admit to being wrong and look at other leads and theories to actually pursue JUSTICE. Seriously, this guy infuriates me.

Between both of these books, what I’ve learned is this: Italy is an achingly beautiful country, so full of exquisite architecture and art and wine and food and history and purple hills and golden light that you can’t help but fall in love, but if you go there, don’t be anywhere near where a murder was committed, don’t chance to speak with anyone involved, and you’d certainly better not be a sexually active young foreign woman living in the same house as a murder victim or be an investigative journalist trying to write the truth of what happened. The eye of a bumbling and corrupt legal system is not one you want to draw to yourself. And for God’s sake, DON’T store your centuries-old doorstop behind the door when you’re not using it, because you’re clearly trying to hide what everybody knows is a device used to talk to Satan. Yes, that happened.

I read these two books back to back in the order presented below. Separately, they are the journalistic investigations of the Monster of Florence and the ordeal of Amanda Knox respectively but taken together, they are about two shockingly inept criminal investigations and one very corrupt public prosecutor/judge by the name of Giuliano Mignini. Mignini was eventually convicted of a plethora of criminal activities related to abuse of office with regard to the Monster of Florence, but still allowed to persecute prosecute no, I think persecute is the right word — Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito while he appealed. The contrasts between the justice systems of the U.S. and Italy are stark, and you’ll be shaking your head at what passes for “presumed innocent” and “freedom of the press” in Italy.


The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No complaints. This book is tightly written and difficult to put down, detailing several sets of double murders from 1968 to the Monster’s last known strike in the 1980’s, and how “murderer” after “murderer” was convicted as the Monster only to be exonerated and freed when more killings took place. Preston and Spezi have their own theory about the identity of the Monster of Florence. They make a good case, but the crimes remain officially unsolved. To demonstrate the malfeasance of Mignini and others, as if the false imprisonment of Mario Spezi and the threats against Douglas Preston were’t enough, Preston and Spezi include a final chapter detailing the meat-and-bones of the Amanda Knox travesty. You can’t unsee it.


The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda KnoxThe Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox by Nina Burleigh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book pulled off the rare feat of being beautifully written while annoying me at the same time.

1. Only about half of it–if that–is actually about the case. I like some setting and backstory, but for most of the book I felt like I was reading a travel/history book about Perugia. Lots of biography of investigators and attorneys and other players that I found extraneous. Exhaustive research is impressive, but there’s such a thing as too much information. (Although I did appreciate the line about locals turning their noses up at an eighteenth-century buildings as “new construction.”)

2. The timeline is all over the place. If you don’t already know the sequence of events, you’re going to be confused. I did know the sequence of events going in and I got confused once or twice anyway.

3. Nobody else mentioned this that I know of, and the book was published in 2011, before the Trumpster even really hit the world scene as he is now (gods preserve us all), but the fact that he appeared in this book twice pissed me off, perhaps unreasonably so. It merely referred to his call to boycott Italy, in his typical moronic and bombastic fashion, but I only want to read about Donald Trump in a true crime book that’s about his true crimes. That gripe may say more about me than anything else, but it’s still a gripe.

4. This is not the author’s fault, but again–it was published in 2011, before everything had completely played out. There is an epilogue added in 2012 to relate the appellate overturn of Amanda’s and Raffaele’s convictions, but the whole story has an ending the author couldn’t tell because it hadn’t happened yet. If there’s a newer edition with the rest of the story, I’d go with that one.

Those gripes aside, there is still a good amount of insight into the Italian legal system, the circumstantial and physical evidence, and Amanda herself. For that, I’d say it’s worth the read.

May we all take a minute to appreciate American civil rights (in theory, anyway) and go hug a journalist.

Join me on Goodreads.


Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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