The devil made Andrew Cunanan do it, according to this unfocused novel and meditation on the man who murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace.
Cunanan, a 27-year-old sometime-prostitute and drug dealer, became a tabloid superstar in 1997 when he capped a three-month, cross-country killing spree by shooting Versace in the head outside the latter’s Miami mansion. Cunanan then committed suicide and left little evidence behind, resulting in endless speculation about his motives. Diamond’s fictional stab at an answer centers on a nameless, high-ranking devil, a member of Hell’s Grand Council, who narrates Cunanan’s story and claims credit for planning his crimes. Mixing true-crime fact with invented scenes, the devil gives a fragmented, repetitive, and often contradictory account of Cunanan’s deeds. He offers acid commentary on the toxic narcissism and exploitation of Cunanan’s gay demimonde and asserts that he instigated the killings by (falsely) persuading Cunanan that he had AIDS. He situates Cunanan in his own hands-on cosmic insurgency—“I used Cunanan to strike a blow against heaven and for anarchism, espionage, and terrorism”—but sometimes presents himself as a mere figment, “the nothing that men have to create as a scapegoat.” Indeed, when the devil claims to have started the HIV epidemic, killing millions, readers may wonder why he invested so much effort in choreographing Cunanan’s comparatively trivial crimes. Diamond weaves in disquisitions on serial killers and their psychopathologies, on Versace’s flamboyant fashions and swank decor, and on free-thinker Giordano Bruno and the poet John Milton, whose aphorisms are sprinkled throughout. These digressions are often engaging, and some of the insights into Cunanan’s psyche, such as his possible rage at being discarded by sugar daddies when he aged out of his ingenue role, are resonant. But the tale is dominated by the arrogant voice of the devil—“The mutiny against the ‘affirmative lie’ began in heaven when we spirits first rejected the rule of Jehovah and his Great Con that we shall all be with him one day in Paradise”—which grows tiresome. This happens especially in the long passages that critique other, real-life works on the crime and make the novel feel at times like a peevish book review. In the end, Diamond’s bloviating demon all but crowds Cunanan out of the story.
A sometimes-entertaining but often overblown and under-imagined fictionalized treatment of an enigmatic crime.