ADVERTISEMENT

A Tribute to Anne Perry, historical crime fiction writer with her own Murder Tale

Mystery writer Anne Perry who died aged 84 earlier this month
Mystery writer Anne Perry who died aged 84 earlier this month Copyright Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP
Copyright Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP
By Laiba Mubashar
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

The late writer sold more than 26 million copies, was featured alongside Agatha Christie in The Times's list of 100 "masters of crime", and had a Peter Jackson-directed biographical murder film made on her teenaged life.

ADVERTISEMENT

In case you missed it earlier this month, Anne Perry, who died in Los Angeles at the age of 84, was a writer with an incredible story of her own. 

The London-born bestselling author of more than 120 historical crime fiction books also served a five-year person sentence for murder as a teenager in New Zealand.

The late writer has many accolades to her name: she was featured by The Times in its list of 100 "masters of crime" alongside Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle in 1998; won the 2000 Edgar Allan Poe Awards for her short story, “Heroes”, set during World War I; received a lifetime achievement award at the Agatha awards in 2009; was twice a guest of honor at Bouchercon, the international convention of mystery writers and fans (2013 and 2020); sold more than 26 million copies, according to her website – and there is even a biographical murder film based on her life. 

In 1994, Perry was enjoying a successful career as a bestselling writer when a skeleton was revealed in her closet by the critically lauded film, Heavenly Creatures – a true story which follows her younger self (then known as Juliet Hulme) in the events that led up to her bludgeoning her best friend’s mother to death in New Zealand in 1954.

The Oscar-nominated psychological drama film, which was directed by Sir Peter Jackson, well-known for the Lord of the Rings (2002–2003) and the Hobbit trilogy (2012–2014), explores the obsessive friendship between Perry (Juliet Hulme), played by Kate Winslet, and Pauline Parker, her “partner-in-murder”.

At the time of the film’s release, Perry’s identity as Juliet Hulme was not publicly known but once that information became public, Perry acknowledged her guilt but revealed she had gone ahead with the murder at Parker’s behest for fear that she may take her life.

“I did this much good and that much bad. Which is the greater?” Perry said in Anne Perry: Interiors, a 2009 German documentary on her life.

Christchurch Star
Juliet Hulme aka Anne Perry (right) and Pauline Parker (left) on their way to a preliminary court hearing in 1954.Christchurch Star

Early Life

Juliet Marion Hulme was born on Oct 28, 1938, in London as the elder of two children to physicist Dr. Henry Rainsford Hulme, who led Britain’s atomic weapons research, and his wife, Hilda Marion Hulme, a marriage counsellor.

At age 6, Hulme was diagnosed with tuberculosis and lived in and out of hospitals for most of her childhood. At 8, she was sent to live in the Bahamas with some relatives in the hopes that the warm climate would help improve her health. At 13, she rejoined her family in Christchurch, New Zealand where her father was starting a new job as rector of Canterbury University College.

It was here that she became best friends with Pauline Parker, a fellow classmate at Christchurch Girls’ High School, who would later become her “partner-in-crime” – quite literally.

Together the two girls bonded over and invented a fantasy world, an alternate heavenly afterlife, where music and arts are celebrated and stars like singer Mario Lanza and actor James Mason, are worshipped as saints.

The alternate world was a welcome respite for both girls – as Pauline shared a complicated relationship with her mother while Juliet struggled to come to terms with her parents’ impending divorce.

However, their obsession with each other and this ethereal world distanced them from reality – eventually leading up to the horrific homicide.

Murder and Trial

When Juliet’s parents announced that they would be leaving New Zealand, the girls were so distraught at the thought of separating from each other that they came up with all sorts of wild solutions including running away together. And, when that did not work out, they planned to murder Pauline’s mother (Honorah Rieper) who they saw as the main obstacle to their life together.

On 22 June, 1954, Juliet (15) and Pauline (16) went on an outing with the latter’s mother to Victoria Park. While climbing down a steep hill, Juliet dropped an ornamental stone (as planned) and when Rieper bent over to pick it up, the two girls bludgeoned her to death with a brick piece that they had wrapped up in an old stocking. The girls had presumed that one blow would kill her but it took them more than 20.

The “partners-in-murder” were tried and received a guilty verdict on 28 August, 1954. As the two were too young to be considered for the death penalty which was the punishment for homicide in New Zealand at the time, they were both given prisons sentences for five years and released separately in 1959 on the condition that the two would not stay in contact.

Both of Juliet’s parents had remarried since then and she went on to adopt her stepfather’s surname reinventing her identity as “Anne Perry”.

Random House Publishing Group (US editions) and Ballantine Books (UK editions)
Books from Anne Perry's most popular series: the Thomas Pitt series and the William Monk series.Random House Publishing Group (US editions) and Ballantine Books (UK editions)

Work as a writer

After her release, Perry spent nearly 20 years working in different fields, serving as a retail salesperson, a flight attendant and a limousine dispatcher, before pursuing her childhood passion of writing books.

ADVERTISEMENT

She published her first novel, “The Cater Street Hangman” in 1979, which follows William Pitt, a policeman in Victorian-era London in 1881, and his future aristocratic wife, Charlotte Ellison, who he meets when one of her housemaids is murdered by a serial strangler. Perry would go on to publish nearly 30 books in the Pitt series, ending with “Murder on the Serpentine” (2016) which chronicles the death of a friend of Queen Victoria’s.

In 1990, Perry started a new series featuring William Monk, a detective in the 1850s Victorian era, who loses his memory after a carriage accident and meets Hester Latterly, a Crimean War nurse who becomes his future wife. Perry has published 20 novels in the Monk series.

Her most recent novel, “The Fourth Enemy”, was published on 10 April, a week before her death.

Her last novel, however, is “The Traitor Among Us”, the fifth book in her Elena Standish series following a female English detective of the same name, and will be published posthumously in September.

Perry’s eventful life was covered in a 2012 biography, “The Search for Anne Perry”, by Joanne Drayton, which also became a best seller like Perry’s own books.

ADVERTISEMENT

Death

Perry died at a hospital in Los Angeles on 10 April 2023, at the age of 84, and the news was made public by her literary agent, Meg Davis, who also said that a heart attack earlier in December 2022 had weakened the late writer’s health.

She is survived by her younger brother, a retired doctor.

Share this articleComments

You might also like