Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century – Peter Graham

Non-Fiction
4*s

New Zealand on a fine wintery day in June 1954 a woman, her daughter and her daughter’s best friend took a walk in nearby Victoria Park. The little group stopped at a tea kiosk for refreshments and then walked further into the park. The next thing Agnes Richie, owner of the tea kiosk knew was that the two girls turned up screaming that Pauline’s mother Mrs Rieper had fallen, and there was lots of blood. There was no fall, Mrs Rieper had been bludgeoned to death by the two fifteen year old girls.

Peter Graham takes a forensic look at the circumstances that led up to the killing of Mrs Rieper, soon to be known as Honorah Parker, in the newspapers, because if the indignity of being the victim of matricide wasn’t enough, Bill, Pauline’s father had to disclose that the couple had never married despite having had four children together. The natural place to start is the friendship between the wealthy Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, especially as the rumours were that the two girls were in a lesbian relationship and the author takes us through a comprehensive look at the facts, mainly supplied by Pauline’s diary but supplemented by the stories the two girls wrote and a few comments from contemporaries. He doesn’t leave it there the circumstances of both families are examined with microscopic detail to look for clues on where the seeds were sown for such an unnatural crime. Indeed rates of matricide, a fairly rare crime in itself, but when split by gender exceptionally so. Indeed those who commit this particular crime tend to be adult women living with elderly mothers, not teenage girls.

The book is fascinating, it starts with the scene of the crime and then looks backwards into the family details before moving onto the questioning of the girls and their eventual trial. If anything a lot of the details about Henry’s work as a scientist seemed a little superfluous but if nothing else it gave context, and indeed contrast, between the lives the two girls lived. The author tries, and in my opinion fails, to come up with an underlying mental illness for either girl, but as in the examination of their family set-ups, he doesn’t ever impose his views, rather gives the facts and lets the reader come to their own conclusion.

The big difference in this account is that we know what happens after the trial, after the two girls were released mainly because one of them became a famous author, of crime fiction. Her identity was discovered when in 1994 Peter Jackson directed the film Heavenly Creatures about this crime, then thirty years after the event. Anne Perry was alive and well, living in Scotland having succeeded in becoming a successful author. It is hard to put out of your mind the stories to the two friends wrote together, heavily inspired by the films they watched and their fertile imaginations. Pauline Parker was also tracked down by keen journalists, she also no longer lived in New Zealand but had settled in England under a new name.

This was a fascinating read although it is often the truth that as much as we want to, we learn little from murderers through true crime. The two girls in this instance, hatched a plan without any idea of what killing someone really entailed and as a result were quickly caught. Their plans to go to America and meet the film stars and become writers, didn’t come true… but for one of them it almost did.

I chose to read this book when I learned that Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge was inspired by this crime which was front page news around the world at the time. I thought that I would follow up with a book by Anne Perry herself, but to be honest I don’t have the stomach for that at the moment, but I have bought a copy of Heavenly Creatures to watch.

First Published UK: 2013
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
No of Pages: 325
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

48 thoughts on “Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century – Peter Graham

  1. I’ve seen the film and read a lot of the Thomas Pitt series. I did enjoy them, must go back to them one day. One of them was made into a TV drama by Prince Edward.

    1. My copy of the film was waiting when I got home so I’ll be watching it soon! This book references the fact that the TV drama was made by Prince Edward! I did think I’d be keen to read one, but maybe I need a little time first – it’s just so fascinating a murderer writing crime fiction!

      1. I read most of them before I found out. It seemed bizarre, the books are quite ‘cosy’. They focus on social issues of the time as well though.

  2. Great review Cleo, this looks fascinating and definitely one for the wishlist. I’ve read books by Anne Perry but had no idea of her background.

  3. I already made this comment a few days ago on a previous post, so won’t belabor the point, but I just can’t think about reading an Anne Perry book. Isn’t there something rather odd about a woman who murdered someone spending her adult life writing fiction about murders?

    Also, in addition to HARRIETT SAID, there’s a novel by Vin Packer called THE EVIL FRIENDSHIP based on the same murder.

  4. This does sound like a fascinating and informative look at that case, Cleo. And it does, I think, give a person lots to think about. It sounds, too, as though it’s well-written and draws the reader in, too. Glad you thought it was worth the read.

    1. It certainly was and there is masses to think about. I think the author did well (although it was a little bogged down regarding Mr Hulme) in giving the facts of the case and the defence and letting the reader consider, and I particularly like that approach.

  5. I find the whole situation fascinating and remember when I first heard that the movie Heavenly Creatures was based on this crime. I had never heard of the crime itself. Now, imagine my shock when I figured out that one of the girls was a favorite author of mine – Anne Perry. By the time I knew about this, I had already read many, many of her books. She does Victorian London very well and I love both her series. It’s a hard thing to think about and so, I kind of haven’t thought about it much. I love the women characters in her series – Charlotte Pitt, Hester Latterly, Aunt Vespasia, and many more. I like Thomas Pitt very much and also William Monk. Sigh. Why must real life intrude on my virtual reading life? LOL

    1. I really thought I’d be keen to discover her writing but I feel a bit odd doing so just at the moment. I think I will, but in a little while, especially as you make the characters so appealing. I will follow your approach and not think about what she did when I bite the bullet!

  6. I saw the movie Heavenly Creatures a few years ago, and recall that I was intrigued by Kate Winslet’s portrayal. I don’t know if I want to read this book. While it sounds fascinating, I am afraid that I would be disappointed by the absence of information about the murderers.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. My copy of Heavenly Creatures has arrived and I was tweeted by an author who attended an event with Anne Perry who said that she was like she was portrayed in the film, which is good to know. There was information to be gleaned about them through their writing and Pauline’s diary and more post discovery but I think the problem is the crime was incomprehensible from what was presented at trial.

    1. You aren’t the only one judging by the comments here and on twitter – I thought I was the only one who’d relatively recently discovered this fact – it is bizarre who’d have thought a murderer would be writing crime fiction incognito!

      1. I actually have one of her library books at the moment. Even though I’ve found her work a bit slow in the past, I thought I’d give it another try, but now I don’t think I’d be able to enjoy it. In any event, thank you honestly reviewing (and reading!) the book.

    1. Haha I wish I’d read some of her books first but I don’t think I’ve ever come across her – I didn’t know anything about this until I read Harriet Said and did the googling that you are about to embark on!

  7. I’m completely fascinated by this now even though it is not a story I have heard anything about. I have seen Anne Perry books on shelves but don’t think I’ve read any. Her name is really familiar though.

  8. It’s interesting you say that about not having the stomach for one of Anne Perry’s books at the moment. My sister is a big fan of hers, but I’ve never been able to read one of her books without feeling uncomfortable. I guess I don’t like the line between fact and fiction being blurred quite as much as that! I did love the film though – hope you enjoy it. 🙂

    1. I think you’re right FF it is that blurred line that makes me feel this way – but I will try one, just not yet. I can’t wait to watch the film – another crime writer told me on twitter that he’s met her and she’s just like the Kate Winslet portrayal!

  9. I enjoy reading Anne Perry’s books. I had heard this about her I think right after I read the first book of hers, and it has actually given me a different perspective when reading her books. Her books really focus on social issues and the motive behind the crime – they are more “whydunits” than “whodunits”, and I enjoy them.

    1. I’m loving everyone’s different take on whether knowing her past makes a difference when reading her book – I’m sure I will try one, just not yet especially as I enjoy the why more than the who.

  10. I am still haunted by wondering what it felt like to be Pauline & Juliet. As for Anne Perry, tho’ the books are set in 19th-c England, they don’t give me a feel for the period. But then I read but one.

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