Friday, June 27, 2014

Most mystery readers were probably quite familiar with the works of Anne Perry when, in 1994, it was revealed that she had served time for murder as a teenager in New Zealand in the 1950s.  Her identity was revealed when the film Heavenly Creatures revived interest in the case.  The book Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century takes a comprehensive look at the crime, the trial, and the lives of the main players in the story today.

Juliet Hulme (as Anne Perry was then known) and Pauline Parker became very close while attending a girls' school in New Zealand.  Juliet's father was a well-respected scientist who had moved the family from England to take up a position as leader of Canterbury University College.  Juliet was very intelligent, but had suffered from a variety of health problems from a young age.  These problems meant that she was frequently separated from her parents.  She was sent away several times "to convalesce," always away from her parents.  This caused a lack of parental attachment which the author, Peter Graham, claims helped to shape her personality.  Still, her family was quite well-off and cultured compared with the family of her new friend, Pauline.  Pauline's parents, Herbert and Honora Rieper, turned out not to have ever married, which meant that when charges were eventually filed against her, she was listed under her mother's maiden name of Parker.

The Rieper family lived in a less-affluent neighborhood (not even a pony!) and took in boarders to make ends meet.  Pauline's father was a manager at a restaurant, which caused her to be referred to in the press as "the fish shop girl."  Pauline had also had health problems as a child.  This meant that Juliet and Pauline were the only two girls who were exempt from sports.  During sports classes at school, the two girls sat together and developed a friendship.  Eventually, they began to share their mutual love of books, films, and music, and even to collaborate on their own poetry and novels.  They also acted out their works.

As Graham relates it, at first, the haughty Juliet insisted on being the center of attention and ordering the somewhat awe-struck Pauline around.  However, the girls eventually developed such a close, exclusive relationship that the headmistress of their school warned their parents that their relationship was not healthy.

Since Anne Perry did eventually become a popular writer, it's interesting to think about what might have happened if the girls had been allowed to continue their odd and intense friendship.  No doubt, it would have burned itself out in time as they developed other interests.  Juliet was certainly university material, while Pauline had already dropped out of school.

A crisis developed which radically altered the lives of everyone involved.  Juliet's mother had developed her own career as a family "relationship counselor," hosting a popular radio program.  This didn't stop her from having an affair with a man named Bill Perry.  Perry eventually even moved in with the family, further highlighting the odd interpersonal relationships in the Hulme household.

Juliet's father, while a brilliant scientist, was less than successful as a college administrator, and he was informed that his contract would not be renewed.  Faced with the loss of his job and his wife, he decided to return to England.  On the way, he planned to stop by South Africa and once again deposit Juliet with relatives.  The girls were frantic at the thought of being separated.  No doubt to avoid a scene, Juliet's parents seemed to encourage the idea that Pauline could go to South Africa with Juliet.  They never had any intention of allowing this, however.  Pauline's mother was adamantly against the idea, refusing to even consider it.  Since she was the (apparently) only obstacle to the plan, the girls decided she had to die.

Both girls kept diaries detailing their plans.  After the murder, Juliet's mother was able to destroy her writings before the police started searching the house, but Pauline's journal made for interesting reading.   The girls apparently thought they could bash Pauline's mother on the head with a brick in a sock once, which would cause her to instantly fall down and die.  When that didn't happen, they resorted to a brutal attack, both alternating between holding her down and hitting her.  Their story of the mother falling and hitting her head wasn't believed for an instant.

The girls were convicted and sent to separate prisons.  Since they were juveniles, they only served 5 years before being released and given new names.   The author is able to trace where they went after being released.  Since Anne Perry was already somewhat in the public eye, she has given some interviews about her past.  Hillary Nathan, as Pauline is now known, has been much more private and reclusive.

The book was very interesting, especially if you are somewhat familiar with the case or have seen Heavenly Creatures.  The only part I didn't like was when the author went too in-depth into the writings of the school girls.  It did go to show their state of mind at the time, but it made for some tedious reading!  Other than that, the book was a really fascinating look at an unusual true crime case.

Final Verdict for Anne Perry and the Crime of the Century: Four Gherkins, for being a detailed look at the lead-up and aftermath of a horrific crime


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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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