Reviewed by Jeanne
In 1994, an up and coming young director named Peter Jackson decided to prove to critics that he could create movies that were more than "splatstick," horror films with dark humor. As his subject, he chose a true life crime tale that shocked New Zealand fifty years earlier: the Parker-Hulme murder in which teens Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme had brutally beaten Pauline's mother to death. The trial was a sensation. The girls were found guilty and sentenced to prison. Upon their release, they were given new identities and, according to some sources, told never to have any contact with each other.
Jackson’s movie, "Heavenly Creatures," was a critical success. It also brought up questions about where were these girls now. Soon, one enterprising reporter found at least one answer.
Juliet Hulme was none other than the acclaimed murder mystery author Anne Perry.
Perry's editor was contacted. She thought the tale preposterous and didn't hesitate to say so. She also called Perry, who instead of laughing it off, became very quiet.
Juliet Hulme had indeed been found.
In her book, In Search of Anne Perry, Drayton begins with Anne as an impoverished young writer, struggling to make her first sale. She succeeds with a murder mystery set in Victorian times, The Cater Street Hangman, which turns out to be the first in a series of books starring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. Drayton details plots and themes of Perry's books, along with the struggles she has with her publisher. Occasionally, there are glimpses of Perry's younger days in California and her conversion to Mormonism. Then, about mid-way in the book, Drayton goes back and tells the story of the murder and its aftermath. The rest of the book is divided between recapping book plots and how Perry handled the revelation.
I had been among those shocked when Perry's identity was revealed and had read a few articles about it. I was curious, but I didn't want to read too much because of the sensationalism most pieces were employing. This book is definitely not sensationalist. Frankly, I thought it was too circumspect at first and I tired of reading plot summaries. I also realized that, while this wasn't listed as an authorized biography, there were photos which were from Anne Perry's collection, which meant that she was at least cooperating with the author. I did feel that Drayton was trying to be fair but I also felt she was accepting Perry's contention that she had admitted her guilt, done her time, and repented so that should be an end to it. There were some curious omissions too; while much time was spent on recounting novel plots, little time was spent explaining the elaborate fantasy world that Parker and Hulme created. Some threads of the story seemed to be dropped, too; at least twice there is great excitement about one or more of the novels being turned into a movie or TV series, but in the end little comes of it. ("Cater Street Hangman" was filmed as a possible start to a series but that never happened. We are also told that it is Prince Edward's production company which is interested, and there is a meeting with the Prince. What does this have to do with anything else? I’m not sure. I did find it a bit odd that very little connection was made between this and the dreams of Hollywood the girls shared, planning to become starlets and write and direct all their films.)
I finished the book feeling most sorry for Pauline's family, which was torn apart by the murder and subsequent revelations. I was left wondering what became of Pauline’s father and siblings. I was also intensely curious about the movie "Heavenly Creatures," which Perry hated so much, sight unseen. I bought a copy and watched it. From what I read, Jackson's version followed the facts fairly closely and gave a better picture of the "Fourth World," the fantasy world created by the girls.
The bottom line is that, while I'm glad I read the book, as far as I'm concerned the search for Anne Perry goes on.