Murder in Italy by Candace Dempsey: Amanda Knox Trial

One of the biggest and most tragic stories to emerge from Italy in the past few years is the murder of Meredith Kercher, a 21-year-old English woman studying in Perugia. Kercher died in a pool of her own blood after being stabbed in the neck. And those are about all the details of this case that everyone can agree about.

What has captured the attention and intrigue of many outside of Italy is the fact that an American student and Kercher’s roommate, Amanda Knox, was convicted of playing a role in Kercher’s death. Knox is currently serving a 26-year prison sentence along with Raffaele Sollecito, her Pugliese friend (I just can’t call him her “boyfriend” as he’s often called; they had been seeing each other for about a week before the murder), and Rudy Guede, a native of the Ivory Coast who had been adopted into an Italian family at a young age. Sollecito is serving 25 years in prison and Guede 16. All have upcoming appeals.


Candace Dempsey‘s book Murder in Italy: The Shocking Slaying of a British Student, the Accused American Girl, and an International Scandal sets out to tell the real story beyond the “media frenzy,” according to the backcover blurb.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of the book and have known Candace since before Kercher’s murder (Candace’s family comes from Calabria so that is how we initially “met” online). In fact, Candace and I exchanged several emails about the case throughout the investigation. Candace soon began writing about the case on her blog Italian Woman at the Table, and it’s no secret that Candace has been an *extremely* strong supporter of Knox from early on — and although I know Candace tried hard to be objective, that support continues in this book.

I’m sorry to say that Murder in Italy wouldn’t be my first choice to get a balanced account of the facts of this case, although to be fair, I’m not sure if one exists anywhere as there are strong emotions on all sides. In Murder in Italy, the choice of evidence discussed, the way it’s presented, phrasing, and word choice all paint Amanda as innocent and the Italian police and judicial system as idiots at best, intentionally framing innocent people at worst.

That said, the book covers the main events of the case well, offers details in matters that haven’t been greatly publicized, and delves into the personal backgrounds of many of the major players. For anyone interested in this case, you can find a lot of background information and become familiar with one perspective of what happened. To be honest, I didn’t read anything in the book that I hadn’t heard before, but I had been following the case fairly closely as a legal geek.

Aside from that, though, some little things bothered me throughout the book — misspelled/misused Italian words, sweeping generalizations about Italians and their beliefs, inconsistencies in Knox’s and Sollecito’s statements that were never addressed let alone explained, repeated themes without proof behind them (Knox’s Italian is described as very basic and even poor, but I’ve heard her speak Italian, and it’s not) and various phrases in quotes that aren’t attributed to any sources. To put it mildly, the editing should have been much tighter, and I chalk that up to the publisher wanting to get this out as fast as possible.

But the final verdict: would I recommend this book? Yes, I would, largely because of its most promising quality that I haven’t touched upon yet: readability.

Murder in Italy reads like a novel with so many plot twists and turns and complex characters, you won’t want to put it down. In fact, I read this in a couple days, never losing interest even though I already knew the essentials of the story. Candace has said that she wanted to write about the story as a dream turned into a nightmare, and she accomplished that. She also did a great job of painting the scene in Perugia and giving readers a little peek into this unique corner of Italy where a new crop of young foreigners pass through all the time.

So if you’re interested in the Amanda Knox case and/or enjoy true crime books, give Murder in Italy a look, knowing that you’re in for an engaging although not impartial read.


If you’d like to hear Candace talk about her book, Perugia, and more, check out our latest Eye on Italy podcast in which we also discuss the possible death of Nutella and blue mozzarella.


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25 Beans of Wisdom to “Murder in Italy by Candace Dempsey: Amanda Knox Trial”
  1. I read some of Candace’s blog about the case but I was just too unfamiliar with the whole thing to follow along in a coherent manner. I might have to look into getting ahold of this book and reading up on things. Thanks for a great review.

    Based on your comment, I think you’ll enjoy this book, Michelle; I’ll have more on this next week, including a book from the “other side” so to speak, also written by an American.

  2. Charmain Giuliani

    what a wonderfully frank and detailed review

    Thanks Charmain; hope you’ll be back Monday!

  3. 06.25.2010

    Awesome review. Now undecided about reading – would like a balanced account by someone who’s been there long enough to understand the idiosyncracies of Italian law and language without the “banana republic” attitude as well as a better understanding of the American mentality and lifestyle than is demonstrated by the European press (some of which I’m sure is more about selling papers than a lack of understanding).

    Not sure “balanced” exists, but come back Monday when I’ll point you to another book written by an American based in Rome and also share my own thoughts….

    The language thing is one of my pet peeves. In Preston’s The Monster of Florence, the author translates “amici di merenda” as “picnic friends” and in trying to explain how that made sense he just botched it even worse. Instead of using, say “coffee-break pals” which is exactly what I think the person speaking meant with that description….. From that moment on I could NOT get that niggling annoyance out of my head and it marred the rest of the book for me (to the degree that I actually emailed Preston about it – he had the background to do better and the lapse was just so bizarre I couldn’t get past it!).

    I hear you. That seriously distracts me from a lot of Italian-themed books; it’s often not even things that matter, per se, but like you said, just mars the experience somehow. We may need help 😉

    My fascination with this case has a bit more to do with Minigni and his story (I’m sure he’s mentally unstable) than Knox due to reading Preston’s Monster book in the first place….Does Candace go into that at all?

    Yes, there’s quite a bit on Mignini indeed 🙂

  4. Mary Leonardi-Cattolica

    Interesting review Michelle. I was curious to hear your opinion of the book but I’m actually more interested in your opinion of the case.

    Coming up Mary!

  5. 06.25.2010

    While I’m not all that interested in the book, I’ll be checking out your blog on Monday to hear your opinion on the case. People seem to be either on one side of the fence or another and I don’t think many people are looking at the case objectively at all.

    I agree Mary; it’s hard to get a balanced viewpoint indeed.

  6. 06.25.2010

    Hi Michelle,

    You’ve written a very perceptive review of Candace Dempsey’s new novel.

    You should consider reading Barbie Nadeau’s book Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox.

    Unlike Candace Dempsey, Barbie Nadeau is a professional journalist who has reported on the case for reputable media organisations like the BBC, The Daily Beast and Newsweek. Dempsey covered the case on her reader’s blog on The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s website.

    Barbie has the advantage of actually being able to speak Italian and attending every single one of the public court sessions. She has had full access to the prosecution’s 10,000 pages of evidence and has read the judges’ sentencing report in its entirety.

    The judges’ sentencing report provides the balanced and objective account of the facts of the case you’re looking for. It will be soon published in English.

    Thanks Harry; obviously you follow this case closely, so hopefully you’ll come back on Monday when I offer my personal thoughts, and I will also mention Angel Face as well as a short summary of what I think are the most damning pieces of evidence in the motivazioni — I don’t have to wait for the English version 😉

  7. 06.25.2010

    Background information free of charge:

    hourly updated:

    Guess I know what “side” you’re on, Harry 😉 Thanks for coming by!

  8. 06.25.2010

    This is one of those rare situations where “objectivity” and “balance” aren’t worth a whole lot. One side is completely right, and the other side is completely wrong.

    I’m not quite sure what to make of this comment, but thanks for coming by Charlie.

  9. Tony del Balzo

    I have read both works by Nadeau and Dempsey, as well as Preston’s chilling book; the Mobster of Florence plus Orange is the new Black just, for fun.

    I found Barbie’s book to be an amateurish, opportunistic attempt to sell a psychological profile of someone she has never met but hated. Both books were rushed to market although Dempsey’s took two years plus to write so it is somewhat more refined and factual and much more complete. Barbie is better off to stick to her forte, budget travel writing. She helped drive her sponsoring organization (Newsweek) into bankruptcy and this left her sole audience to be inflamed British tabloid readers who relished her superficial and incorrect assessments.

    Dempsey covers the trial with a mild bias that can be attributed to compassion and reasonable doubt. I also believe her when she states that only a gentleman named Frank S covered the trial every day. I strongly doubt that, Nadeau, a reporter, had unfettered access to 10,000 pages of secret, sealed testimony.

    Thanks for sharing your opinions, Tony; I haven’t read Nadeau’s book and I don’t know her personally…but I’d welcome a review copy if she’s reading 😉

  10. 06.25.2010

    I enjoyed your review and you have sparked my curiosity about the book. This kind of case drives me crazy. The “true” story will most likely never be known and I want to know the TRUE story! Sollecito is from Giovinazzo, the town next us, and went to school with my niece…

    I’m the same way with these types of things — always wanting the truth. Can we handle the truth? Hmm….

  11. Mary

    I just finished Candaces book as did my sister. We both came away agreeing that the two young students were RAILROADED! from what I’ve read of that prosecutor he is the one with the depraved mind and is projecting it on other people. Astounding how they were comvicted on such flimsy evidence…

    Thanks for coming by, Mary; please come back Monday when I’ll talk more specifically about the evidence included in the sentencing report.

  12. 06.26.2010

    Poor poor girl. I don’t know if she is guilty of the crime, but she is guilty of being stupid and of having poor judgement. Way to muck up a year abroad and the rest of your life, for that matter, by getting involved in a very compromising situation with individuals of questionable repute. Such a mess and such a waste. You give quite a frank assessment of the book. I like that. I find it very refreshing.

    Thank you Melissa; I agree with you that Knox didn’t help herself along the way. Just a horrible situation all around.

  13. Here in Seattle, the reactions were heartbreaking. Whether Amanda is guilty or innocent, the loving relations between Perugia and Seattle (sister cities) will never be the same. It is truly frightening from a parent’s perspective to see your child in the hands of another country’s justice system. I personally cannot have an opinion, because I do not know all the facts..thanks for the book review

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mimi; I can’t imagine either Seattle or Perugia is real fond of the other right now…perhaps time can heal that wound.

  14. Gil

    I kept hoping that the police would come up with another person. It is too hard for me to comprehend the things those kids were accused of doing. I guess I am too old to understand things like “rough sex”.

    I don’t really buy the whole “rough sex” angle myself, but yes, I too hoped another explanation would have come forth…not that anything would have been understandable. Such a tragedy 🙁

  15. Cristina

    This post was molto interessante Michelle and so were the comments! A very sad situation from any angle. I’m looking forward to Monday and your legal perspective.
    On another note-I’m totally with you on the language thing. It’s a peeeeeeve of mine. If I read something with obvious errors or poor translation, I just can’t get past that! It’s so annoying, and all credibility is lost. Mi da fastidio! Mind you-I even go as far as to correct people in line at starbucks when they ask for ‘a biscotti’! AAAAhhhh -drives me nuts.

    We’re of the same mind, Cristina…don’t get me started on “a panini!” 😉

  16. 06.26.2010

    This case has riveted me and I’m still not sure what to believe.It got me to thinking about the shady characters we young students attracted when studying in France. At that age everything seems new and exciting and you just really don know who and what your dealing with. I’m very curious to read your thoughts on Monday.
    I read about some jailed mobster making a confession for his relative? Will that have An impact or was that a farce?

    The defense will certainly try to get that in (there was another inmate who said Guede told him he and a friend are responsible for the murder), but whether it’s believable is another question. We’ll see.

  17. PhanuelB

    So come Monday we find out if Michelle Fabio passes or fails the intelligence test. If she thinks Amanda did it then she flunks. Let’s hope she’s not another Barbie Latza Nadeau, a small time travel and dining columnist, consumed by hate, and willing to sell her intellectual integrity for a chance at the big time.

    The trial of those accused in the tragic murder of Meredith Kercher has been watched by the world for exactly one reason: the question of whether American exchange student Amanda Knox was guilty and if her trial was fair. Among educated people the debate ended long ago. She didn’t do it and the trial was a modern-day witch hunt fully supported by two European nations. American commentators from CBS to CNN to the New York Times are openly proclaiming this a “kangaroo court” and a “public lynching.”

    But there is a surprisingly strong lobby of internet trolls who loudly advocate Ms. Knox’s guilt. With few exceptions they are from the bottom of the intellectual ladder. Special handling must be set aside for those with law degrees or other prestigious academic credentials who remain confused about the case.

    Ms. Fabio is off to a bad start when she says that Rudy Guede “had been adopted into an Italian family at a young age.” He was in fact never adopted into the wealthy Caporali family –he would have had the same rights of inheritance as the family’s biological children if he had. In fact it was a foster family relationship beginning at about age 16 when Guede’s father returned to the Ivory Coast. They employed him as a gardener and threw him out when the job didn’t get done.

    Michelle Fabio is an attorney. Here are some observations that an attorney who seeks to speak with authority about the case might make:

    1) Italian law does not permit full public access to the trial record. Exactly two documents are available on the internet: the so-called Judge Micheli report and the motivation document. Both are required by law to be available to the public. No other document from the trial is available on the internet in its complete, unaltered form. The result is that the important public debate about the case has been defined by Internet blog hearsay and the eye-witness accounts of journalists who were at the trial. Selective leaking of information by authorities to chosen members of the media, much of it false and known to be false is an accepted practice in Italy.

    2) Giancarlo Massei, the Judge in Amanda’s case, apparently never instructed the jurors that the standard for guilt was proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Several days after the verdict Juror Angela Irene Ceccarini stated, “It was hard to see Knox doing this, but it is possible. People can let things get out of control; we can all drink too much then get in a car and drive,” Judge Massei also failed to do anything about jurors who according to multiple eye-witness accounts slept through much of the proceedings.

    3) Forensic investigators believe they have a right to selectively provide documentation from their laboratory analysis. Only toward the end of the trial did Patrizia Stefanoni provide the infamous “too low” notes indicating that the size of the sample from “the” knife was too small to be accurately tested by the equipment she was using. Defense experts have repeatedly complained that all data related to her testing has not been released.

    4) A recurring obsession of Judge Massei in the motivation document is the idea that the lack of physical evidence against AK and RS could be explained by a careful and deliberate cleanup with bleach. He thinks a 200 picogram ( a picogram is a millionth of a millionth of a gram) non-blood sample said to be of the victim was found at Raffaele’s apartment, yet he argues that there is no need to test a large semen sample found underneath the victim. I am not making this up – see page 381 of the motivation document.

    There is of course insufficient space here to do anything but scratch the surface. The big picture is that the prosecution took a straight forward sexually motivated killing of a young woman in her prime by a troubled male and turned it into something that would have no parallel in the history of crime. No credible evidence suggests that anyone besides Rudy Guede committed this terrible crime. Amanda, Raffaele, and Meredith did not “know” Rudy Guede. Rudy Guede’s DNA was found inside the vagina of the victim. The American girl didn’t put it there.

    I’m approving your comment because wow, you put a lot of time into it, but no, come Monday you won’t find out whodunit from me. One thing I would ask though is to please stop referring to me in the third person. It’s creepy. As I’m the one who reads your comments and responds to them, you’re welcome, nay advised, to use the second person.

  18. PhanuelB


    Why thank you for keeping the post; I was wondering about that. I honestly didn’t know that second person and not third was the better etiquette. I’m not here to break any rules.

    As I’m sure you know, these waters are not for the faint of heart. Amy Jenkins wrote a piece for the Independent the other day that was very pro-Amanda. The lengthy diatribe that followed on the TJMK site included a photograph of her with her minor child. Those of us who advocate Amanda’s innocence would never do anything like that.

    Criticism of the likes of Mignini, Massei, Nadeau, and the Perugian court is legitmate and will be harsh. I look forward to you comments on the case.

    I think your previous comment went to moderation just because of its length; as you can see with this one, not everything goes there automatically and I hope I can keep it this way for the post on Monday. I don’t know that second person is better etiquette–just my personal preference. We’re pretty informal around here 🙂

    I’m honestly not looking to get into a debate about whether Knox is innocent, guilty, or somewhere in between, but I would like to give my perspective as an American living in Italy, which I have not seen out there, on a few things. I’m not on a “side,” which I would like to think makes me kind of a “friend” to both camps, but I’m afraid just from a book review, I’ve already been seen as enemy blood by both sides. Eh. Such is life. Buon weekend!

  19. 06.27.2010

    Interesting review Michelle-I have often founds that books dealing with crimes in Italy tend to read more like a novel-emphasizing the sordid details vs. presenting both sides of the story. An exception to that would be The Monster of Florence.

    I haven’t read The Monster of Florence; thanks for commenting 🙂

  20. 06.27.2010

    I do find this story interesting. Sad too. So many lives ruined. I am not sure I want to purchase the book though…maybe I will get it from the library.

    So what are your thots on the Yoran van der Sloot debacle. I feel bad for the Holloway family along with the murdered woman’s family in Peru.

    It would be nice for the Holloways to have some closure on their daughter’s murder, maybe some good can come from this tragedy in Peru.

    Oh I do hope the Holloways can find closure; I have no idea what to think about van der Sloot except that he’s a sick person. Very sad story all around there as well 🙁

  21. 06.28.2010

    There actually are important links from the Joran van der Sloot case to Amanda’s.

    John Q. Kelly is an American attorney who had represented the Holloway family. He has also appeared on CNN Larry King Live where he called Amanda’s case “the most egregious international railroading of two innocent young people that I have ever seen.” He went on to call the case a “public lynching.”

    In the case of Van der Sloot, there is little doubt that he committed the murder in Peru. This changes everything for the Holloway case although he will probably never be convicted of anything there due to lack of evidence. If television can be believed there is hotel security camera footage of him entering a hotel room with the victim. He leaves the room alone and her body is found there later. That’s a lot of evidence. The fact that he committed a murder in Peru strongly suggests that he was involved in Natalee Holloway’s death.

    The case is important because Italian authorities should observe how other police forces go where the evidence takes them. In Amanda’s case they did not follow the evidence. When as John Q. Kelly points out the knife didn’t fit they said there must have been two knives. When they couldn’t find physical evidence, it must have been because it was cleaned with bleach, and on and on into absurdity.

    The most important point to be made about Natalee Holloway’s case is that it was over-covered by the media. It was the last in a series of tragic cases in the US that were covered on a nightly basis on news shows. The cases of Elizabeth Smart, JonBenet Ramsey, and Gary Condit received similar media attention. In the end several news correspondents rebelled and the over-coverage ceased.

    The result is that Amanda’s case has received less coverage than it might have a few years earlier. Because truth is Amanda’s greatest ally, her case has been hurt by this

    Thanks for coming back, PhanuelB; as I stated, I have nothing to say on the van der Sloot case — I wasn’t in the US for the Holloway disappearance or the Kercher murder to comment on coverage, but I would like to point out that in the examples you mentioned the deceased/missing were all Americans — not the accused (now convicted) killer. I don’t know if that makes a difference in media coverage, but I don’t think it’s fair to group Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, Elizabeth Smart, and JonBenet Ramsey with Amanda Knox.

  22. Issy

    “Knox’s Italian is described as very basic and even poor, but I’ve heard her speak Italian, and it’s not”

    Yeah, a couple of years locked up wrongfully in an Italian prison will really improve a gals Italian language skills. yay.

    Actually I’m referring to her earliest statements to police; but in any event…how much Italian would she really be speaking in prison anyway? People paint a lonely picture of her in her cell, and I imagine her visitors are mostly English speakers. She may have been studying, of course, so I’m sure her Italian *is* better than it was, but I don’t think it was ever poor — from what I have read and seen. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  23. ISSY

    “how much Italian would she really be speaking in prison anyway? People paint a lonely picture of her in her cell”

    Michelle, this is just silly to me to be honest. She speaks Italian everyday in jail. She is not in solitary. She has even been involved in theatre presentations and talks to other prisoners and guards daily.

    You wouldn’t know it from the pictures her supporters like to paint of her in jail (see one of the comments in the “anti-Americanism” post about her birthday coming up). Just curious, though, how do you know who she talks to? Besides, there is a big difference between small talk (mastered very quickly in a foreign language) and getting beyond that — and she was well beyond small talk in November 2007.

  24. ecipollina

    Nutella and Blue Mozz? WTF? Your talking about people lives.

    Perhaps you don’t understand, but Candace’s interview was part of a larger podcast about other news stories — and those were the other stories that week.

  25. michelle

    I’m sorry to those of you who still have valuable insights to be made, but I’m closing all the comments on the Knox-related posts as I have no interest in continuing to play referee. If you would like to share your comments, please feel free to contact me.



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
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