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R. R. Reno

I'm nearly finished reading the new novel by Roger Scruton, The Disappeared. Scruton is familiar to First Things readers. He's one of the most important conservative voices of recent decades, having written on political philosophy, aesthetics, architecture, and other cultural topics. Scruton is also a marvelous writer. This novel's setting is the Rotherham sex trafficking scandal, a sordid episode in contemporary English society in which official multiculturalism created the conditions under which poor white girls could be preyed upon by Muslim criminal organizations. The Disappeared is fully of characters who come alive as human beings caught in degraded cultures, both Islamic and Western. It's not a work of ideological critique but rather sympathy and solidarity with our shared travails. Strongly recommended.

Julia Yost

Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi's The Monster of Florence tells of the serial killer who operated in the lovers' lanes of Tuscany between 1968 and 1985, and of the authors' efforts to identify him, thwarted as they were by the incompetence unto malfeasance of the Italian civil authorities. Great material here, and I look forward to the feature-film version starring George Clooney. Preston and Spezi argue, convincingly I think, that the Monster is a certain migrant from a remote village in Sardinia. That Mediterranean hinterland appears as the font of a rustic, archaic evil menacing Florence—that cradle of the Renaissance, with its piazzas and palazzos, its basilicas and baptistries, its vineyards planted by Michelangelo and prosciutto dry-cured by Masaccio, its frescoes painted by peasant girls in headscarves (I may be mixing things up here). I looked in vain in Monster for the deep weirdness of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, to which the jacket copy compares it. But to be fair, this book is not trying to be that. Notwithstanding a few descants on the nature of evil, Monster is not literary or memoir-ish; it is journalistic, and ends up being largely about the two journalists and their trials. The evil in Italy does not begin or end with the Sardinian Monster. We must contemplate the less spectacular, very modern, almost-equally-evil evil of the public officials who made their careers on the Monster case, who cultivated panic and were indifferent whether the accused were guilty or not, so long as the case was “solved” and acclaim received. To this end—and this is consistent with so many criminal cases inspiring public panic, though usually they have to do with sex abuse—it was not useful for prosecutors and police to credit the “lone psychopath” theory of the case, typed up for them specially by the F.B.I. in Quantico and pretty obviously correct. They preferred a satanic-cult-and-coverup theory, which augmented the peril and their heroism and dissembled the fact that they might not have caught the evil one after all, and even if they had it was late in the day—hey, they were nailing his confederates and enablers! Preston and Spezi were hunting a solo Monster, quite independent of the conspiracy fantasized by the authorities. Their case makes sense to me. For their pains, they were bugged and surveilled and, in Spezi's case, arrested. They present this debacle as a peculiarly Italian thing—upshot of the machismo and worldliness indigenous to that country, and a legal system that does not maximize accountability. I am less certain.

Matthew Schmitz

I've recently read Submission by Michel Houllebecq, Against the Grain, by J. K. Huysmans, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, Madness in Civilization by Andrew Scull, Disease as Metaphor by Susan Sontag, The Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson, and The End of the World by Romano Guardini. I've also started on the fifth season of “Friday Night Lights.”

Matthew H. Young

In keeping with my inexplicable fondness for Eastern European political history, I've been occupying my time on the subway each day with William Echikson's brilliant book Lighting the Night: Revolution in Eastern Europe. Echikson travelled extensively around the Soviet Union prior to its collapse, becoming close friends with many prominent dissidents, including Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa and Charter 77 founder Václav Havel. Echikson's book—written in the years between the revolutions of 1989 and the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991—is not just interesting for its highly personal account of life in the Soviet Union, but also as it captures a moment in time. Throughout his work, you can see both the triumph of the 1989 revolutions, and the tension between hope and fear for the future. If you wish to know what it was really like, read Lighting the Night. Hungarian opposition leader Miklós Haraszti wrote “Reading it is the next best thing to having experienced it yourself.”

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