The Search for Anne Perry by Joanne Drayton, Harper Collins, ISBN 9781869508883, RRP$44.99, Available now.
It’s really not surprising that the Honorah Rieper/Parker murder story continues to fascinate so many people (myself included). For the few people who surely don’t know the story, Honorah was murdered in Christchurch in 1954 by two teenage girls – one, her own daughter Pauline Rieper/Parker, and the other Pauline’s best friend, Juliet Hulme. She had been beaten to death with half a brick wrapped in a stocking. At the trial it became clear that Juliet and Pauline had an obsessive relationship and an incredibly complex fantasy life. Lesbian goings-on were hinted at. Parker and Hulme seemed oddly detached from their actions. The story totally captivated New Zealand and the time and has since been told and retold through books and movies (Heavenly Creatures, directed by Peter Jackson).
And what does this all have to do with Anne Perry, reasonably celebrated and certainly successful writer of mostly historical murder mysteries? Anne Perry, it turned out, was Juliet Hulme.
The Search for Anne Perry is, at heart, a fascinating story that ultimately fails to deliver. The blurb promises that Drayton “is able to peel back the layers of Anne’s carefully constructed life to show us the woman beneath” but reading the book turns into a disappointing experience, as the reader can’t help feeling that Anne’s life as told in The Search for Anne Perry remains “carefully constructed”.
I hate to say that because Drayton has clearly worked hard and gained the trust of her subject as few others have. The cost of that trust, though, is unfortunately this is more of a “Perry-approved” version of the story. At times the tone veers towards gratingly gushy. Drayton is clearly a fan of Perry’s and so the big questions feel unanswered. How? Why?
Throughout I felt like I was trying to read between the lines, to find out something authentic and genuine. Perhaps this is the only authenticity left. If you kill someone, you become a “murderer”; to stop being that every day you must wake up and recreate every part of yourself that isn’t the “murderer”. Maybe then, that’s all you have left.
This really is the at the heart of our fascination with the Parker-Hulme story. They are the ordinary people capable of killing, as all we ordinary people must then surely be. I think about the questions I would like to ask, chief being “When you write about a murder and a murder victim’s body, do you think about that murder? Do you see that body?”
It just may be that those questions are too personal. Too many layers deep.
My final word is I think The Search for Anne Perry is a necessary addition to the Parker-Hulme story, even if it ultimately doesn’t reveal as much as it wants to. It’s certainly readable and will definitely have an audience.