The Fatal Gift of Beauty


Who had even heard of the small town of Perguia , Italy before the horrible death of Meredith Kurcher in 2007?  And who can think of it now without thinking of Amanda Knox?  In “The Fatal Gift of Beauty,” Nina Burleigh examines absolutely everything surrounding the 2007 tragedy that would consume the lives of two young women. Before this book, I followed the murder carefully, and based on the evidence presented, I felt content with Knox’ conviction.   But Burleigh raised questions about the evidence, personality of Knox, validity of eye witnesses, and the personal vendetta of prosecutor Mignini, all of which weave a confusing tale that left me convinced that Knox was not the killer.  I invite you to read the book and see if your opinion will also change.

 Kercher was a student at Leeds University in Yorkshire, England who had attained a prestigious spot in the Erasmus Program.  Initially, Kercher’s professors told her she would not be able to defer her final year to allow her the time to study abroad.  She fought with them about this and eventually won them over.   I was struck by the fact that it was not easy for Kercher to study abroad in Perugia.  Although I don’t attribute many things to “fate,” its interesting to ponder whether cosmic forces were attempting to prevent Kercher from being in Perguia in the first place.

 And was it just a spooky coincidence that Knox walked up to a school bulletin board at the very moment her future roommate pinned up a flyer advertising a room for rent?  It is as if Knox and Kercher were destined to take the free rooms in the house.  They would live there for only a few weeks before Kercher would be found dead in her room, her throat slit, her breasts exposed, towels around her body that was half covered with a blanket.  A small detail the Italian police will later use to show that Knox killed her – since only female killers feel bad for their victims and cover them once they are dead.

The images of Knox and her boyfriend,  Raffeale, snuggling and kissing outside the house soon after Kerceher is found dead were played constantly on television and supported the Italian authorities theory that things with Knox are out of place. While they stand there, Knox does not cry, and she notably won’t over the following days.  Knox and Raffeale later leave the scene to buy sexy underwear before eating pizza.  Knox cartwheels in the police station and twirls in the slip on booties she is required to where to enter her apartment, now a crime scene.  One can hardly deny that the behavior is bizarre, but bizarre behavior does not make one a murderer.  Unfortunately, it is this socially awkward and inappropriate behavior that leads her to be investigated and later charged as Kercher’s murderer.

 After reading the statements of witnesses, and those of the roommates, there does not appear to be any animosity or hatred between the two girls that would have resulted in Kercher’s death.  Neither was Knox into satanic rituals nor sexual parties as Mignini touted to the press.  The eye witnesses, including a homeless man, drug dealers, and unreliable sources, all provide contradictory accounts of what happened the night of the murder that are barely believable.  Years after the murder, several people even contact the judge and authorities to tell them that they have more reliable information about who committed the murders, but these leads are never investigated. 

The most confusing aspect of this case are the confessions of Knox and Rudy, a man interested in Kercher. Rudy admits to being in the house with Kercher, but says that a man killed Kercher, not Knox.  Knox also states a man killed Kercher while Knox covered her ears in the kitchen.  But the evidence did not support these confessions.  Kercher’s DNA  that was found on a knife in Raffeale’s apartment, was minimal and was later ruled inconclusive.  There is also no evidence in the house to support any theory other than someone broke in and killed Kercher when she surprised the intruder.

The only downside was that the writing in the first half of the book developed extremely slowly.  Burleigh was overly descriptive, often including too many examples to make a point.  I often wondered if she understood the proper use of punctuation marks, as many of the sentences needed either a semicolon or comma to separate the thoughts, and several others were simply run on sentences.  Once the book reached the halfway point, and the focus shifted to the murder investigation and trial, the pace of the writing picked up and was much easier to read.  I would encourage a reader to stick with the book, despite the rather bland beginning.

 The book is intriguing and contains detailed information would satisfy not only those with an interest in crime and legal thrillers, but also those intrigued by sociology’s interplay with police investigations.  I would recommend the book, with the caveat regarding the writing.

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