I wrote in my last post (so, about ten minutes ago) about my reading resolutions for this new year, but I’ve also got a vaguely committed to resolve to really write more about what I’ve been reading as well. I made a similar promise to myself (and to anyone who reads this thing) last fall that, clearly, did not work out, but no harm in trying again, I suppose. And so, here below is my review of the first book I finished reading this month. Perhaps sometime soon I’ll get around to making a post summing up my thoughts about my cumulative reading list from last year, but I’m really going to focus primarily on keeping up with what I’m reading now, so I make no promises about any sort of upcoming “Best of 2016” kind of round-up.
Anne Perry: The Murder of the Century by Peter Graham (2011, 2013)
It’s been a few years since I’ve read my only Anne Perry novel, A Christmas Secret, about which I remember little other than that it tended toward the sickly sweet side of things, unmoving but unobjectionable as a technically proficient bit of Christmas fluff. As I do to most of the authors whose books I read, I Googled her name at some point in the reading process and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the creator of this religion-heavy, heart-warming volume was, herself, a convicted murderer; I was even more pleasantly surprised to learn I could have my pick of books on the subject of said murder.
The one I settled on was Peter Graham’s Anne Perry: The Murder of the Century, I think because it was the most recent, or perhaps it was the highest rated on Amazon, or maybe it was just the cheapest copy I found available. I don’t remember. I ordered it immediately in the rush of joyful anticipation of such a perfect topic, and then I let the book languish on my shelf until this Christmastime when, in lieu of enduring another of Perry’s Christmas mysteries, I decided to celebrate the season literarily with Graham’s thorough, thoughtful, and perfectly salacious overview of the life and trial of Anne Perry (then Juliet Hulme) and her childhood best friend, Pauline Parker.
Graham starts with the murder itself, meticulously including seemingly every detail of that afternoon when Anne and Pauline lured Pauline’s mother into a secluded area of a park far from their homes and bashed her head in with a school stocking-wrapped brick. It’s gory, horrifying stuff, and as more and more details are unveiled and laid plainly before the reader in frank, uncompromising prose, the question of how such a thing could have come to pass looms more and more urgently. The crime did not occur in a fit of rage; neither did it occur as a chance result of insanity. It was carefully premeditated by both girls, but at whose urging is a point which remains unclear for most of the book and which is an arguable point still as Graham’s study draws to a close.
To help the reader draw her own conclusions, Graham backs up after presenting us with the facts of the murder, and he traces the biographies of both girls and their families: we learn who their parents are and how they wound up in New Zealand, we hear all about the infancies and girlhoods of the girls, and we’re told in almost too much detail the circumstances of their friendship. This is all important not just in gaining a personal understanding of the perpetrators and victim of the crime which is this book’s focus; it’s also all important because of the trial which, hinging as it did upon notions of insanity, sexuality, and class, had at its heart the biographical narratives of criminals and victims alike.
Graham is careful throughout to be respectful of all those involved, including Anne Perry and Pauline Parker, both of whom were still alive and well when this book was published and who appear to continue on into this new year as well. No detail is spared in his coverage of the depravity and the unavoidable disagreeableness of the two girls as girls, but he is also thorough in his explorations of psychiatric reasons pertaining to how these girls became, at such an early age, so remarkably depraved and horrible to be around. He is also sympathetic to the other players in the story including the girls’ parents (and these are some pieces of work, let me tell you), the detectives and lawyers involved in the case, and the people close to the women today.
I very much enjoyed this book, though it took me a while to finish as sometimes the setting of the various scenes involved became a bit repetitious and I had to set it aside for a few days every now and then to keep from growing bored with the entire topic. I also felt that Graham’s discussion of other critical works on the crime and trial, particularly his panning of Parker & Hulme: A Lesbian View by Glamuzina and Laurie (which argues, among other things, that the “delusions” of religious grandeur communicated by the two girls are similar to Maori religious beliefs and considered legitimate by members of the Maori community) to be too brief and dismissive. Overall, though, a solid foray into New Zealand true crime, a fascinating look at one of the biggest sellers in the cozy mystery genre, and just a solid, well told story. 4/5 stars.