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Builds into a crescendo
on 4 December 2013
Russell and Johnson's account begins with salacious descriptions which have turned off other reviewers. I didn't mind the intimate description of the crime scene and autopsy because it's vital information if you have a serious interest in this fascinating case. The fact is that obviously the autopsy report is not in the public domain and publically available photos of the crime scene sensitively blur Meredith's body. This is obviously to respect her family and her memory. However, it does leave a hole in the evidence for amateur sleuths that Darkness Descending manages to fill. What I found more distasteful was the sexualised descriptions of all involved: Amanda's strong athletic thighs; Rudy's rippling six-pack; Meredith's puppy fat cuteness to her cheeks. It all seemed horribly inappropriate given the context.
So the book begins with a lurid, sensationalist style but gets a lot better and is a real page-turner for the second half. As it was released in Feb 2010, just after Knox and Sollecito were sentenced, the account is a bit dated now and throws around theories which have since been discounted. The authors couldn't make use of Judge Massei's 400+ page motivational report justifying the verdict (a legal requirement for Italian cases). This is really the key text for all those interested in the murder (and is available online translated into English by a team of volunteers).
The playing down of Rudy's role is probably in line with most keen observers today. But `Darkness Descending' goes too far in giving his almost verbatim version of a developing relationship with Meredith prior to the night of her murder. The authors do note a few contradictions to his claims of having met Meredith several times but leave the reader with the impression that Rudy was let down by friends who could have backed him up but didn't want to get involved in the case. In fact Rudy's claims of previous flirting with Meredith were demolished in his own trial and appeal by multiple witnesses, not least Meredith's friends to whom she mentioned nothing of a rendezvous with a man on the night of her murder.
The book is worth reading for the evaluation of Colonel Luciano Garofano, a leading forensic expert in the Carabinieri, one of the multiple police forces in Italy. Garofano would have headed the Meredith murder investigation if the Carabinieri had arrived first on the scene. He describes over two chapters his interpretation of crime scene evidence and what likely happened that night, which differs from the Perugia Police and prosecution.
Reviewers will note that you're still left asking questions at the end. Unfortunately, that's the nature of the case: it has many mysteries and contradictions. Of the four pillars of a prosecution case, behaviour and circumstantial evidence condemn Knox and Sollecito pretty unambiguously. If they were innocent, you'd have to accept that they behaved very abnormally and told numerous lies to police for reasons unconnected to the murder. Witness evidence is weaker because the defence can raise reasonable doubts about the exact date, why they took so long to contact the police, and being socially discredited for drug use. Forensic evidence would be crushing but is problematic because its poor collection gives the chance for contamination (only chance though). Readers should note though the inherent contradiction of the pro-Knox camp: forensic evidence collected by the same team, at the same time, in the same location, by the same methods is contamination when it's Knox and Sollecito's but perfectly valid when it belongs to Rudy.
If you're interested in the case, `Darkness Descending' is a valuable contribution (particularly to Rudy's background) but don't start with it if you're new to the murder. John Follain's `Death in Perugia' remains the definite account but Russell and Johnson's work provides better depth on the forensics and more of an opinion than Follain's strictly neutral tome.