BOOKS

Haunted by homicide

Anne Perry nade her name writing about nurders, and now it turns out that she committed ne herself

BARBARA WICKENS March 27 1995
BOOKS

Haunted by homicide

Anne Perry nade her name writing about nurders, and now it turns out that she committed ne herself

BARBARA WICKENS March 27 1995

Haunted by homicide

BOOKS

Anne Perry nade her name writing about nurders, and now it turns out that she committed ne herself

Anne Perry is nothing if not persistent. For years she led the sort of hand-tomouth lifestyle that has become the stereotype for the struggling artist. She began writing historical fiction when she was in her mid-20s, enduring 13 years of rejection slips before a publisher finally accepted her first novel in 1979. Even after that, she continued to support herself with odd jobs, from limousine dispatcher in Beverly Hills, Calif., to a series of clerical positions in her native Britain. “It was just six years ago that I made enough money from my writing to finally pay income tax,” she said while in Toronto earlier this month to promote her 20th murder mystery, Traitors Gate. At last Perry, who now lives in the tiny Scottish Highlands village of Portmahomack overlooking the North Sea, has achieved the security that many writers only dream of: she recently signed a $ 1.4-million contract to write a further eight books in the next four years. But the tranquillity that came with her success evaporated last summer. In August, The Sunday News of Auckland, New Zealand, revealed that Perry was one of the two 15-year-old murderers portrayed in the current movie Heavenly Creatures. The film had revived interest in the 1954 slaying of Honora Parker by her daughter Pauline and Pauline’s close friend, Perry. The two served Yh years in prison.

That revelation resulted in a maelstrom of publicity for Perry, 56, who until then had been best known for the historical accuracy

and domestic detail of her murder mysteries set in Victorian London. The media scrutiny has come in waves coinciding with the release dates of the movie worldwide. And Perry’s attempts to discredit the film, which she refuses to see, have contributed to her continuing notoriety. Her description of it as a grotesque and distorted portrait of her life prompted Miramax Films to place a recent advertisement in The New York Times promising to arrange a screening for her. “Please see the movie before you judge it or speak out against it,” the ad read.

Despite suggestions by some commentators that such publicity is a great promotional tool for her books—more than three million are in print—Perry says it is not only unwanted but has been devastating for her emotionally. Since her release from prison in 1960, only her family, closest friends and members of the Mormon church, which she joined when she lived in California in the late 1960s, have known that she was the once-infamous Juliet Hulme. She left New Zealand, where her family had moved seeking relief for her various chest ailments, and took the surname of her stepfather, Bill Perry, who was originally from Winnipeg. Anne Perry says that her 83-year-old mother, who lives near her, “has suffered very much.” She adds that people in Portmahomack have been remarkably supportive, as have employees at her North American publisher, Ballantine Books, who offered to release her from the current

book-promotion tour. “I very nearly stayed home,” she said, “but I’ve got to either stay in hiding for the rest of my life, or go through this and come out the other side.”

Perry seems genuinely mystified by the frenzied fascination with her past “I thought, ‘After 40 years, who cares?’ The Berlin Wall has come down, Communism has fallen, the whole world has changed since then.” She is also bitter about some of the comments made about her, both then and now—particularly the notion that there was a sexual component to her m relationship with Pauline Parker. Peril ry will not discuss details of the mur-

0 der, saying only that she remembers 2 little because she was on a medicals tion for her lungs that has since been

1 taken off the market because of its judgment-altering side-effects.

Her voice becomes even edgier _ when she notes that because she was « a minor, she was not allowed to testi| fy at the trial. Adding to her frustration is the fact that the prosecution’s case (like the movie) was based largely on the diaries of Pauline, who had outlined her plans to kill her mother. “I don’t know how you can use one person’s diary as evidence of another person’s behavior,” Perry says, adding that such scribblings are wide open to misinterpretation. For instance, Pauline, whom she says she has not seen or spoken to since the trial, wrote about seeing “George in the night,” says Perry. “I believe that in North America the equivalent is ‘the john,’ but the prosecution tried to make out that she had a lover.”

Her greatest scorn, however, is reserved for those who say she shows no remorse. A proper, almost brusque, Englishwoman, she is indeed no meek penitent. But she insists that “the misrepresentation is pretty high—I always expressed remorse.” For now, her goal is to get back into the daily rhythm of her life in Portmahomack, where she lives alone—she never married—in a converted stone barn. Perry, who writes in longhand, works six days a week. Traitors Gate is the 15th instalment of the chronicles of police Supt. Thomas Pitt and his wife, Charlotte, who uses her highborn connections to help her husband solve cases. Perry has also written five books featuring William Monk, a detective in 1850s London. Under the terms of her new contract she will produce one book a year in each mystery series. She will also finally get to publish some of her historical fiction, including a novel set during the French Revolution. It is one of the books publishers have rejected; Perry is now on her fifth rewrite. But now that her past has been widely publicized, it will be especially difficult for her readers to think about Perry without also thinking about murder.

BARBARA WICKENS