Real Evil

Real Evil

Real Evil

Arts and arguments in the news.
Aug. 11 2001 12:00 AM

Real Evil

Do murderers take comfort in moral relativism? According to Philip Gourevitch a writer for The New Yorker and author of a celebrated book about genocide in Rwanda, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, they do. In an interview with the Atlantic Monthly, Gourevitch, whose new book A Cold Case tells a New York murder story, says: "Most criminals have no problem living with the fact that they've committed terrible crimes. They tell themselves that what they did was not so bad." But what of the murderers who are not relativists, who know the crimes they commit are evil? In fiction, there is Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris' serial murderer, or the lethal Tarquin Winot in John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure. And in life we have Charles Manson and " Il Mostro di Firenze"—the Monster of Florence—a serial killer who murdered eight couples between 1968 and 1985. Some of those who followed the 1992 trial of the man the police considered the murderer— Pietro Pacciani, a farm laborer—didn't believe he could have committed the crimes because he didn't posses the necessary moral evil. Interestingly, Harris was among them. And a few days ago, the Italian police themselves came round to this view and reopened the case. One theory has it that a group of wealthy Italians—the society types you see in Fellini's La Dolce Vita—indulged themselves in Satanic slaughter and may be doing it to this day. Another is that there was just one evil mastermind, perhaps a foreigner, an Englishman with vaguely aristocratic tastes. Either way, the evil is out there in the hills around Florence, sipping a nice Chianti, and if fact follows fiction then a real Clarice Starling should make an appointment with the carabinieri sometime soon.

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