There have been more than 20 books written about the murder of British Erasmus student Meredith Kercher in both English and Italian since that dreadful day in November 2007 when she was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered in her Perugia apartment. But most books (including Angel Face by this author) tend to focus on murder suspect Amanda Knox, the Seattle native who was convicted and then acquitted of the crime. Now, it’s finally the real victim’s turn. Meredith’s father John Kercher has penned a passionate tome simply called Meredith: our daughter’s murder, and the heartbreaking quest for the truth.
Kercher, who is a journalist, says he originally planned to just write an extended personal diary about everything that happened in Perugia, so he and his ex-wife Arline and their three children Stephanie, Lyle and John would have a record of the events of Meredith’s murder. He was daunted by the thought of writing it for everyone else. “Perhaps, I thought, the process of writing might be too painful. Everything was too close to the moment, the events still vivid, the memories too personal,” he writes in his foreword. “It was not an easy task to confront.”
But for anyone who closely followed the events, it is a good thing he conquered those fears. Kercher’s book is essential reading on this case, because it gives the first view to date from inside the fishbowl. Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are both writing books on their versions of the murder and trials, but Kercher’s brings to life the most silent voice in this saga—that of the woman who was killed.
Kercher writes in vivid detail about what he and his family went through during each unthinkable step in the process, peppering every experience with a poignant memory of Meredith’s life. He begins the book with his last conversation with his daughter, and how quickly their lives all changed only a day later, when they found out she had been murdered. Kercher describes calling the foreign desk of the Daily Mirror newspaper, where he had freelanced over the years, to see if they knew the name of the victim, and describes his mind-numbing reaction when a timid desk assistant told him, “The name going ‘round Italy is Meredith.”
Kercher writes in an easy, somewhat apologetic first-person voice, tucking in details about why Meredith chose to study in Perugia and how during a class trip in high school she decided she would one day live in Italy, a country she fell in love with as a young child when the Kerchers vacationed there. He gives new details about Meredith that the press who followed the case never uncovered, including how Meredith’s former boyfriend Lloyd proposed to her in a Japanese restaurant shortly before she left for Perugia. She declined, but kept the ring for a few days before giving it back. He also pays homage to each of Meredith’s close friends, both those from her hometown and those in Perugia, and describes in painful detail what it was like to read the cards on the flowers left in tribute both in Italy and England after her death.
But Meredith is more than memoriam; it is also a valuable textbook on the details of the criminal trial. Considering that he is writing about the murder trial of his daughter, Kercher manages to be surprisingly dispassionate when it comes to the evidentiary facts of the case. He knows them well, from the moribund details of the forensics to the quirky nature of much of the circumstantial evidence that initially convicted Knox and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, before the appeal. He is also candid about their financial struggles—the fact that the British Foreign service did not pay their travel expenses, but how they felt it important to hire an independent DNA expert to present evidence in the case, despite their financial constraints.
In one of the book’s most heart-wrenching scenes, he describes the surreal night Knox and Sollecito were convicted of the murder and how the courtroom was silent when the judge read the guilty verdict. “I looked towards Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollectio: gone was the confidence and smile that Knox had displayed throughout the pretrial and trial. Then, as the judge delivered his pronouncement, in an Italian I could not understand, I watched her collapsing forward. I saw her parents’ look of disbelief.”
Kercher also walks the reader through what their family considered the even more painful and confusing events that followed the guilty verdict, and how the American press and some British outlets embraced Knox’s claims of innocence during the appeal, sacrificing Meredith’s memory in the process. Meredith’s name, he points out, was frequently left out of news stories, which became more and more focused on Knox during the appellate process. For the Kercher family, which had just begun their closure with the guilty verdicts, the process of retrying the case and reliving those painful details of their daughter’s murder all over again in the appeal was almost too much to bear.
When Knox and Sollecito were acquitted, Kercher, who had suffered a stroke in 2009, stayed in England rather than travel to Perugia. Hearing the acquittal was like hearing her daughter’s death all over again. “Hundreds of miles away from the centre of the events, I sat stunned and open-mouthed … To hear that they had been acquitted and exonerated of any blame in Meredith’s death was staggering.” Kercher’s book may be billed as a chronicle of a family’s pain over a brutal murder, but it is also a reminder that living in the epicenter of one of the world’s biggest media cases does nothing to deaden the pain.