Publication Date: January 5, 2016
In Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham, it’s 1954 and Juliet Hulme and her friend, Pauline Parker, killed Pauline’s mother. The crime, committed by two teenage girls who lived rich fantasy lives and simply did not want to be separated when Juliet would be sent to South Africa, rocked Auckland, New Zealand. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century chronicles the crime, trial and Peter Jackson film that led to the hunting down of the two long released convicts.
It seems a widely known fact that English author, Anne Perry, was born as Juliet Hulme and spent five years in prison after she and Pauline Parker were convicted of killing Pauline’s mother. Given the first name when released from prison and returning to England, she took her stepfather’s last name. A secret for many years, the release of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures brought the crime back to the public eye and interest in tracking down the now elderly teen killers.
In Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, Graham lays out in minute detail the connection between the girls, their crime, the trial and what happened after with an in-depth psychological analysis of what essentially seemed a thrill kill. Where Graham is quite through in the 384-page work, he could have used a good editor. The trial portion of the piece is retold in excruciating detail showing witnesses debating if the crime was motivated by a sexual relationship. We get it; people at the time thought they were lesbians but in the grand scheme, did it matter? They had an oddly dependent relationship whether it was sexual or is not the point.
The narrative at the point of the trial is weighty and, frankly, boring. What is interesting is the lasting effects the trial seems to have had on the ancillary players. Graham doesn’t celebrate the more salacious facts of the case merely presenting what experts said on the stand and representing the disbelief of some of the litigators. They both had somewhat isolated childhoods during which time they were chronically ill and both seem to have been less of a priority for the people who were supposed to value them most. More is known about Juliet — the now Anne Perry — so it does seem that the focus of the piece is the now, famous author.
What is clear from Graham’s telling is that real story will never be known unless one of the two key players decides to open up about the day they decided to kill Pauline’s mother. Perry has spoken about the crime even appearing on an episode of the U.K. chat show Tricia but really has only gone into already known facts. She is exceptionally gracious to herself in that she seems to have no remorse and when asked if she thinks about the victim, she says that she doesn’t because she didn’t really know her. There’s a vanity in ending of life and not thinking of the victim as inconsequential. One would hope that Ms. Perry is simply poorly spoken, though she is shown to be sharply intelligent and have a way with words. Parker, from what I’ve read is a recluse.
That their relationship was so dependent and the mother was killed allegedly because they would be separated is rather surprising that both of them said that they hadn’t been in contact since their release. I audibly gasped upon reading that Anne Perry, an author I’ve read but never looked into her life, was one of the teens. That she writes crime fiction makes me wish that I remembered the motivation of her fictional killers to perhaps look through fiction to fact, but that’s never a sure thing. Most of the non-fiction work flowed well. As mentioned, the courtroom play by play got a little weighty, and I will admit to putting the book down multiple times during the course of the narrative. At its base, even if one didn’t grow up to be a famous author, it is fascinating. I’ve read in other reviews that some readers were thrown off by the overtly English formality to the writing but, to be fair, I did not notice. Perhaps because I do read a lot of books by English author, or perhaps because I’ve now lived in Canada for 19 years.
If you’re into true crime, Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century is a great, well researched and well-presented read.
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