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Non Fiction

Death in Perugia by John Follain

There are several degrees of reading about Crime. If you are susceptible to nightmares (like me), you may try the cosy mysteries. Then there is the regular crime fiction, which most of us would read; and if you want to scare the wit out of it, then try true crime, it never fails to chill me.

The only true crime stories I have read before this is The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which I found to be enjoyable and chilling as well and in normal days I wouldn’t want to read any true crime than it is ‘necessary’. I read Death in Perugia because for many years  few crimes have captured the imagination as much as the murder of Meredith Kercher. The beauty and kindness of the victim, the fresh faces of her alleged assassins, the murky world of sex and drugs, set against the backdrop of Italy. Now that both Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have been acquitted of Kercher’s murder, the story becomes more murky, as no one knows quite what to believe any more. Many people remain convinced that the two are guilty, including my librarian. 😉

I don’t have the patient to read newspaper and follow-ups. So a book is ideal for me to trace the case (and the evidence) from the beginning till the end. When I saw this at WH Smith bookstore, the first thing I thought is that I will check it out from the library.

John Follain is the Rome correspondent for the Sunday Times and has been following the case for 4 years. His book is a neutral reportage of events, from the excitement of the young girls from both side of the Atlantic, Meredith and Amanda to the night of the murder on 1 November 2007, the investigation, the witnesses accounts of suspects, friends and anyone who saw them on the night of the murder (from the tramp to a young couple and the next morning, the grocer); the court trial and prison’s priests conversation with Amanda up to the acquittal in 3 October 2011.

I’ll present a summary of findings quoted from the Guardian review of the book, in which if you followed the case previously you may already know:

“As investigators looked more closely at Knox, she emerged as a narcissistic attention-seeker who was sexually adventurous but also jealous of Meredith Kercher’s cheerful contentment. Knox knew, it seemed, no boundaries, leaving a vibrator in a transparent washbag and enjoying one-night stands. Detectives thought she was both sly and naive.

These character traits, however, were as nothing compared with the contradictions she got caught up in. At first she said she was there that fateful night; then that she wasn’t. Pages of her diary were ripped out. Her phone, always on, had been switched off early that evening. She had used drugs. Most incredible of all, Knox claimed to have entered the flat the following morning, having found the front door open and blood in the bathroom, and rather than running outside and calling the police had gone straight ahead and had a shower without a second thought. (Judge Messi was suspicious of Amanda of showering in her cottage that morning with no heating)

Harry Pottery looking Rafaelle, whose father said "wouldn't kill a fly"

Her DNA was found on the handle of a knife that also had Kercher’s DNA on its blade. That knife came from the kitchen of Knox’s boyfriend, Sollecito. He, it emerged, was a habitual drug-user who collects knives and hardcore porn. His DNA was found on Kercher’s bra clasp. He had lied about when he had used his computer, about the time of certain phone calls, and also about the time he’d eaten dinner.

A third man emerged as a suspect. Rudy Guede alleged that he had merely been making out with Meredith and was in the bathroom when he heard her screams from the other room. He tried, he said, to save her. Prosecutors didn’t believe his story, especially when DNA evidence indicated a sexual encounter with Kercher – with, detectives thought, Knox and Sollecito involved as coercers. Various eyewitnesses came forward to place Guede, Knox and Sollecito at the scene of the crime, and the fact that the young lovers had bought bleach the following morning suggested they were trying to cover their tracks.”

The fresh faced and mentally unstable

Not only that, Amanda wrongly accused an innocent man of murder. The man was her ex-employer, Patrick Lumumba, the Congolese barman. Amanda’s account of the night was inconsistent. If you ever watch the movie called Run, Lola, Run, Amanda’s account was as unreliable and as varied a version as what happens to Lola the day she went out running and encounter different people which presents all different scenarios of that day. Amidst all these suspicions and DNA evidences surrounding the suspects, the first verdict sent both suspects to life sentence. The second appeal however, with backings of powerful lawyers for Amanda and Rafaelle, the jury’s concluded that none of the evidences were reliable due to contamination, such as uncovering a key evidence as old as 46 days, and they were acquitted after 4 years of imprisonment. I read with aghast at strange display of behaviours by Amanda before and after the murder, some of which is so bizarre I thought the girl must be really mental.

The book was well researched and from the reviews, one of the best out there. The new evidence and witness’s account were revealed gradually instead of at one go. It reads like a crime thriller that sends me turning the pages swiftly. Death in Perugia  do not contain any authorial speculations nor opinions and because of this objectivity, you will find repetition of illustrations of what happen to them presented in many guises and in many conversations that the suspects may have with the priest, family members, with the police, her secret journal, prison letters and in court. It can be quite repetitive and tedious, but if you want to uncover the hidden clues yourself, then you must read on and make your mind about the question: did they or didn’t they?

Amidst all these talk about whether Amanda did or didn’t, Meredith’s brutal death had been long forgotten. Meredith suffered 27 wounds, 7 of which were knife wounds, she was strangled, raped and bled to death. There were many nights reading the book and looking at pictures of Meredith smiling faces, I went to bed with nightmares. The book contain graphic images and written descriptions that can be distressing. I was spooked. I was intrigued, no crime writing can get any better than this.

Did they or didn’t they? No one will ever know.

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death – Bible reading by John Kercher Jr, Meredith’s brother, at her funeral

If you want to read a summary of the case, yet not losing the gist of it, click on: Wikipedia: Murder_of_Meredith_Kercher. I hate to think some movie director will pay big money to have this re-enact in the big screen in the future.

Rating: 

Paperback. Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton 2011; Length: 435 pages; Setting: Nov 2007 to October 2011, Perugia Italy Source: Reading Borough Library. Finished reading at: 15th December 2011.

About the writer:

John Follain was born in 1966. He studied at Oxford before joining Reuters, for which he worked as a correspondent in Rome and Paris. He has covered Italy for The Sunday Times since 1998. His previous books include THE LAST GODFATHERS and ZOYA’S STORY on an Afghan resistance fighter, which was translated into fourteen languages. He was voted runner-up for the 2006 Paul Foot Award for Campaigning Journalism, and nominated for the 2008 Magazine Journalism Awards for his interview with the Knox family.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

24 thoughts on “Death in Perugia by John Follain

  1. Nice review. Follain’s book is a very professional treatment of the case. There are very few factual errors, especially compared with other books on the subject. You will notice, for example, that when you try to follow Follain’s account of Knox’s interrogation on November 5-6 it isn’t completely coherent. But I love the book. I use it as a reference (I have the Kindle version) whenever I have a question about the case. Having been involved with the Wikipedia article I can’t really recommend it as it intentionally obscures the strength of the evidence in order to maintain “neutrality”. The truth is, while in the strictest sense we’ll never know exactly what happened to Meredith Kercher–even if Guede eventually confesses Knox’s supporters will dismiss him as a liar–in a larger sense we do know what happened, as surely as we know what happened to Nicole Brown Simpson or Caylee Anthony.

    Posted by brmull | December 22, 2011, 8:01 am
    • brmull,
      Thank you for your first comment in the blog. I agree with what you said. I suppose facts on Wiki may pique some interest and then for those who need to take it any further should read the book. You are right to say if Guede confesses now, no one will ever believe what he said. I can’t help but feeling that drug is involved and that anyone who is at the scene or not at the scene won’t be able to tell which is the reality and which is a fantasy.

      Posted by JoV | December 23, 2011, 3:51 pm
  2. I’m not sure I could handle a book like this, I really struggle with real crime docs let alone books. But especially this case as it is a little too close to home. I didn’t personally know Meredith but I was studying at the University of Leeds at the same time as her. The students got together and decorated a tree in the centre of the campus to commerate her, it was covered in pictures, notes and ribbons.

    Posted by jessicabookworm | December 22, 2011, 4:50 pm
    • Jessica,
      I used to love watching CSI on TV until I have little children and I stop watching them. Back then CSI’s evidence will never be questioned for contamination and the truth is always prevail but in this case not! It is creepy to think that you study at the same Uni Meredith went to. I can’t help seeing her picture without being affected.

      Posted by JoV | December 23, 2011, 3:52 pm
  3. I’m so intrigued by your review and this book. I watched a lot of the news coverage f the second trial which was biased towards Knox, at least I thought so. I wanted to know about the original case in which she was convicted and then acquitted on appeal. SHe had excellent lawyers for her second trial and they did a great job…

    I’m definitely going to look up this book and probably read it. Thank you for a terrific post!

    Posted by Amy | December 22, 2011, 7:57 pm
    • Amy,
      I agree that she had excellent lawyers. I suppose with book like this and what is reported on the news, you make up your mind. I look forward to hear what you think about the book.

      Posted by JoV | December 23, 2011, 3:54 pm
  4. Can I suggest you read ‘The Monster of Florence’ by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi? (It’s reviewed on my blog — I read it in 2008.) It that suggests that the Carabinieri, the Italian police and the judiciary are far from honest and that the inspector dealing with their case was corrupt. That same inspector, I believe, was involved with the Kercher case. Bearing all that in mind, I honestly don’t know what to make of the court case. I think you hit the nail on the head when you state “Did they or didn’t they? No one will ever know.”

    Posted by kimbofo | December 22, 2011, 10:11 pm
    • Kim,
      Thanks for pointing me to the Monster of Florence. I would have to sit out and wait till the effect of this book on me died down before I pick up another true crime book. By then I would get to understand the Carabinieri a little bit more and how the whole system works.

      Posted by JoV | December 23, 2011, 3:57 pm
      • I liked the review and will look for this book. Another true crime book that might interest you is “Green River Killer” by Jeff Jensen–though based on a serial murder case the treatment is not sensationalized. It’s the story of a twenty-year-old murder case finally broken by DNA evidence. The oddest element of the “Green River” case as described here is that a man accused of three murders, based on DNA evidence, is trying to convince a team of exasperated Seattle cops that he was guilty of many more…

        Posted by Robert | August 25, 2012, 3:44 am
  5. Creepy to think about the effect of the media on the case isn’t it? Like, even if she really is innocent she’ll never have a normal life right? I just never know what to believe.

    Posted by amymckie | December 23, 2011, 1:04 am
  6. I read the ten previous books about this case. As Follian’s came out after the verdict but was written before the verdict, and as I’d followed his commentary in the news, I knew what his take on it was, completely disagreed with him, as do most people who have followed what passed for evidence against the accused. I elected not to contribute money to his anti-logical propaganda.

    Addressing your comments, however, the ‘high powered attorneys’ for the defense in the appeal were the same attorneys the defense used in the first instance trial. The difference was Judge Hellmann, who was not in collusion with the prosecution, examined the evidence and came to the same conclusion everyone else who actually examined the evidence and the facts of the case came to: Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were not present at the time of Meredith Kercher’s murder. Judge Hellmann’s motivational report was published 2 days ago and is already in English translation. It explains his view of Knox’s accusation of Diya Lumumba. As no one in the questura obeyed the law and recorded those interrogations for posterity, we have no way of knowing what was really said or how the accusation was obtained. Personally, my policy is to always question authority. The fact that the Italian Supreme Court has already disallowed the prepared statement Knox signed also gives very little credibility to the rumors about what it contained.

    I, too, enjoyed Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. Circumstances of repressed perversity are commonly the stressors that cause that kind of crime. If you want to read a true account about a modern sadistic female sex murderer, you will find Thomas Cook’s Early Grave a chilling study. It was reading Mr. Cook’s account of the murders committed by Judith Neelley and her husband and subsequent research on these people, that first brought me to doubt that Amanda Knox could possibly have committed the crime attributed to her. There are very specific behaviors patterns always seen that build up to this kind of criminal. Knox and Sollecito had none of those patterns. Rudy Guede, whose DNA clearly shows that he was with Ms. Kercher at the time of her death, has several of them.

    Posted by Patrick King | December 23, 2011, 6:11 am
  7. It’s clear that as you have admitted you have not read the press coverage (not just by Mr Follain, who was so one sided in his reporting of this case that it was beyond a joke) and other sources (e.g. websites by credible sources such as former FBI forensics analysts) in depth. If you had, and applied a semblance of analysis, you would realise that this book and the Guardian review simply regurgitate a load of inaccuracies that have been thoroughly debunked by the Defence team over the past four years. These rebuttals have finally been accepted with by the Italian appeals court that recently freed the two wrongly imprisoned. Do your readers a favour and do proper research! You may want to read the book by Candace Dempsey who actually bothered to question the ludicrous claims of the prosecutor, not just accept them like Mr Follain, who should have known better.

    Posted by Roger | December 23, 2011, 6:45 am
  8. Hm, I’ve seen a number of other books about this case, but have not yet read one. I followed this case quite closely and have my strong personal opinions about it. If I ever read a book about this case, it would be a book written by an authoritative American figure. After reading plenty of news articles by the British and all others, it’s become quite clear the message they are trying to bring across.

    After the acquittal, I couldn’t understand why so much focus is being placed on Amanda and Raffaele instead of Rudy Guede. There seems to be irrefutable evidence that Rudy is guilty. It is not uncommon for murderers to act alone. So why is there the headhunt just to justify and coverup the mishandling and ridiculous fumbles made by the Italian police? o.O

    This whole thing is really messy. 🙂

    Anyway, nice to meet another Malaysian! There are too few book bloggers from Malaysia.

    Posted by sugarpeach | December 25, 2011, 5:43 am
  9. I haven’t heard of the case but it does sound complex and very complicated and interesting. Thanks for your review for bringing the case to my attention 🙂 As you know I love the cozies, I don’t read a lot of true crime, usually from the 19th I guess 😀

    Posted by Bina | December 25, 2011, 5:36 pm
  10. Please read this for an alternative viewpoint regarding Mr. Follain’s “definitive account”:

    http://www.groundreport.com/World/Prosecution-Lackey-John-Follain-Delays-Release-of-/2940978

    Posted by Rick Bonin | February 29, 2012, 3:42 pm
  11. This is very unfortunate since Mr. Follain is the most biased and most ethically challenged of tabloid journalists. Fair minded people will find his book a disaster in every respect. What you get from him is purely the prosecution’s view of the case. He makes no effort to understand the power of the defense case, much less convey it adequately to his readers. So the poor person who has read only Follain will be completely mystified by the appeals court’s complete vindication of Knox and Sollecito. Judge Hellmann gave the pair the strongest form of absolution available in Italian law, ruling that they had conclusively demonstrated their innocence. The suggestion that Americans do not have access to all the information necessary to understand the case is purest self-serving hogwash. The ENTIRE case file has been available to serious researchers in this country since the time of the first conviction.

    Posted by Quentin Zoerhoff | February 29, 2012, 4:59 pm
  12. I have yet to read Follain’s book, but have read a few others on the case, as well as the majority of the material that is available online, including the Judge’s motivation reports from both trials. While Follain may be writing in good faith, the thing I am continually confused about this case is why people say that we will never know who killed Meredith Kercher. I agree with Sugarpeach, the evidence is really quite clear. People say it is this big mystery, but why, in a crime where there is a large amount of solid, irrefutable evidence that points to one person, is there a mystery? Rudy Guede had a history of breaking into homes and offices, and this cottage was broken into in the same way he did it elsewhere. His shoe prints and hand prints were found, in the murder room, in the victim’s blood. He admits to being there, but says he was on the toilet, and someone else came in and killed her, except that there is no evidence that anyone else was there. He initially said that Amanda Knox was not there at the time, then changed his story later, and not coincidentally got preferential treatment from the prosecutors. Why is this a mystery?

    Those who favor the theory that Knox and Sollecito (neither of whom were friends with Guede prior to the murder) participated in the crime also, say there is a large amount of evidence against the two. Except that if one looks closely, this “evidence” is all conjecture, or falls apart upon closer examination. Judge Hellmann, in his appeal court decision, says this very clearly — that Knox and Sollecito were acquitted because they “did not commit the crime”. This is not a technicality — he very clearly says that none of the evidence holds up. It is a shame that this story that there is some confusion about who the killer is continues to be put forth in books of this type. No one has forgotten Meredith Kercher, they have just been confused by the Perugian authorities’ insistence in prosecuting two young people on the flimsiest of evidence. People think that where there is smoke, there must be fire. The really odd thing about this case is how misinformation continues to be put forth by a small group of people who refuse to admit that the facts say otherwise.

    Posted by Dougm | March 1, 2012, 12:51 am
  13. Despite Follian’s efforts, this is NOT at all a complicated case. A burglar broke into an apartment on rent day of a holiday weekend with the idea of grabbing the 300 euro rent from 4 female occupants. Only one was home, Meredith Kercher. She had martial art training and tried to fight back and was knifed to death. This is what the evidence presented in court clearly shows.

    An ambitious prosecutor dreaming of becoming the Italian answer to Manson prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, tried to pin this on Kercher’s female roommate who was nowhere near the crime scene. That’s really all there is to it. There would be more money for Follian, the prosecutor, the police and everyone if they only could come up with some what or blaming Amanda Knox. They cannot.

    Posted by Patrick King | March 1, 2012, 2:01 am
  14. Mignini already had a reputation (I recently found out) of being a complete sociopath). I found this out from a judge here. Was shocked that he was known across the seas….

    Posted by Michelle Moore | March 4, 2012, 10:56 pm
  15. Most of Follain’s sources appear to be people within Italian law enforcement or Meredith’s English friends. The appeal documents and the Conti-Vecchhiotti report both get short shrift. This book is a major disappointment.

    Posted by Chris Halkides | March 7, 2012, 12:29 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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