Monday, January 6, 2014

Write what you know...especially if what you know is murder.

In 1954, Christchurch, New Zealand, was rocked by a murder. A scandalous murder. A murder that brought secrets to light, ruined careers, and disgusted and shocked the entire world. Why such a reaction to something which is, unfortunately, rather commonplace? Because it was matricide, and the murderers were two school friends: Juliet Hulme, age 15, helped her best friend Pauline Parker, 14, murder Pauline’s mother by beating her to death with half a brick. What drove these friends to commit this grisly murder? Was it something in their background? Both girls suffered life-threatening illnesses and separation from their families during childhood. Was it the end product of their active fantasy life? The girls had created their own language and religion, populated their fantasies and stories with movie stars, and were prolific fiction writers. Could their possible lesbian relationship somehow have contributed? It's never been truly determined how physical their relationship was, but there was a definite closeness and infatuation with each other. Or were they simply crazy? Could the simplest explanation be the truest?

Author Peter Graham, a barrister for thirty years before becoming a crime writer, first heard about the Parker-Hulme murder in 1972 when he went to work for the man who had been Hulme’s junior counsel. During Graham's time in Christchurch he frequently met people who had known the families, or had sat in on the trial. Graham’s interest in the case grew, and Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century was conceived. In order to give a full and true accounting, Graham did extensive research and interviewed with those still living. The resulting narrative is mostly impartial. He gives the reader the facts of the case, and of the girls’ lives and backgrounds, and lets us draw our own conclusions on their sanity. The writing style, while occasionally dry, is very readable, and fascinating without being gossipy.

My primary interest in this book was not as a true crime novel, but as a bit of a biography. Juliet Hulme, many years later, went on to have a lucrative and highly prolific career as a historical murder mystery writer. Under the name of Anne Perry, the now 75-year-old Hulme has written over 50 novels – many of which I have read and highly enjoyed. Reading this account of her early life and her part in the murder of Honora Parker was shocking and titillating. It also makes me want to reread her novels, just to see if traces of Juliet Hulme remain.

Graham, Peter. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2013. 

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