Book Review: Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century
Case File Overview
In Christchurch, New Zealand on June 22, 1954, two teenage girls committed a crime that intrigued and horrified the nation. On a wooded pathway, Honorah Parker was held down and bludgeoned to death with a brick. Honorah’s killers were her daughter, Pauline Parker, and Pauline’s best friend, Juliet Hulme. This crime is especially shocking given that matricide, the murder of a mother by her child, is exceedingly rare. And when it does occur, it’s almost always committed by sons.
Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme
Although the teenagers at first claimed their innocence, Parker and Hulme were eventually convicted of the murder. Shockingly, however, they each served only a little more than five and a half years for the heinous crime. Once released from prison, both young women changed their identities and began new lives. In fact, Hulme later reinvented herself as the best-selling mystery writer Anne Perry, an author with over 20 million books in print. Often referred to as New Zealand’s most famous crime, the Parker-Hulme case has been dramatized multiple times, including the popular 1994 film Heavenly Creatures by Peter Jackson.
If you crave an in-depth look into the Parker-Hulme case, Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century is the book for you. It’s written by Peter Graham, a true crime writer and former Hong Kong lawyer. He does a tremendous job researching this complicated case, drawing on archives, diaries, and interviews with key players.
Graham is an engaging writer, and he breaks up what could be an overwhelming amount of information about the case into short, well-organized chapters. He also does not shy away from using rich, varied language that might increase many readers’ vocabulary. For example, within the first two pages Graham seamlessly integrates the words “ectomorphic” “boffin” “aquiline” and “ructions”. I also especially enjoyed the extensive bibliography offered at the end of the book, which is especially useful if you wish to do any further reading about the case. Also, as found in most successful true crime books, Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century includes a plentiful and well-chosen selection of photographs that captures the cultural context at the time of the crime, as well as the lives of Parker and Hulme before and after they murdered Parker’s mother.
Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker
What stands out most to me, though, is that Graham asks all of the right questions. Why did Parker and Hulme commit this horrific crime? How could they bring themselves to do it? What role did their childhood, class, and sexuality play in the case? Did they suffer from mental illness at the time of the crime? And, importantly, have Parker and Hulme stayed in touch since that fateful day? It’s well worth your time to read the book and discover Graham’s answers to these fascinating questions.
Related reading and viewing
“Matricide” – British Medical Journal article
Heavenly Creatures – film
Parker-Hulme Murder case – Christchurch City Libraries digital archives
Interested in murder cases? Check out the unsolved murder of Lisa Leckie and the mysterious slaying of the Nation River Lady.