Christmas cookies at a book reading? For a book on a gruesome, controversial murder case? Once that might have sounded strange, but it’s hardly the most surprising attraction at a local book event: Kathleen Flinn’s culinary memoir The Sharper Your Knife…. debuted with a burlesque dancer. And it’s nothing compared to the weird twists of the Meredith Kercher murder case, better known as the “Amanda Knox case” or simply “Amanda.”

Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were arrested for the murder of her British housemate Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Seattle’s Italian sister city, in November 2007. Since then Iceland, Greece, Ireland, global finance, and the euro have gone to the brink and back. But they’re still sitting in prison, awaiting the outcome of ongoing appeals. Their case has become something of a transatlantic Rorschach test: Americans, especially Seattleites, tend to be sympathetic to Knox (see James Ross Gardner’s story on the response). Brits, rallying around Kercher’s family, and Italians and italophiles, defensive about flaws in Italian forensics and jurisprudence, are less so. Both countries’ tabloid presses have outdone themselves in lurid reporting and misreporting on the case.

Dempsey, a second-generation Italian American, is like me an unabashed but, I like to think, unblinkered italophile. (Disclosure: We also worked together at a small newspaper back when New Wave was new.) She’s carefully avoided answering The Question—“Did she or didn’t she do it?”—in her April 2010 book on the case, Murder in Italy, and in appearances since.

Murder in Italy (Berkley) reads like a novel and, thanks to its sensational subject, went straight to mass paperback, but it’s still a closely reported, even-handed account. Reading it, one suspects the only crime Amanda Knox could reasonably be convicted of is brutta figura, making a bad impression, with her courtroom T-shirts, jailhouse gymnastics, etc. And as much as figura counts in Italy (one reason it’s such a delightful place), it’s not on the statute books. Perhaps Knox is a scapegoat for the thousands of American exchange students who flood college towns like Perugia and take study abroad as license to drink freely and carouse loudly.

With the appeals now underway, Dempsey will give a timely talk Tuesday, December 7 at the Bellevue Regional Library, at 7pm. No doubt she’ll deflect the Question again. And yes, she’ll serve Italian Christmas cookies.

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