Anne Perry, Prolific Novelist With a Haunting Criminal Past, Dead at 84

Novelist Anne Perry talks about the Making of a Writer. Credit: Open Road Media/YouTube

Many writers come by their stories and novels via their personal background or former (and sometimes, present) employment. Scott Turow and John Grisham are attorneys, and Turow still practices. Patricia Cornwell had a mentally ill mother and a disturbed childhood, coupled with her crime reporting, forensics, and extensive work in a morgue, where she observed autopsies.

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But novelist Anne Perry was a criminal in her own right. And not just for any run-of-the mill crime like robbery or fraud. When Perry was a 15-year old-girl named Juliet Hulme from Christchurch, New Zealand, she helped her friend Pauline Parker commit murder. Hulme and Parker had an intense connection. Hulme’s parents were about to divorce and send her to live with her aunt in South Africa. Parker wanted to be allowed to move with Hulme, but her mother Honora Parker forbade it. At the end of their ropes, the girls hatched a plan to bludgeon Honora Parker to death.

Both young women were convicted of murder and sent to prison for five years. Because they were minors, they were spared the death penalty. That true crime murder was the subject of writer and director Peter Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures. Hulme was portrayed by actress Kate Winslet.

In 1959, Hulme was released from prison and essentially reinvented herself. She changed her name, moved to a small, secluded community in Scotland, and found religion, becoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Now Anne Perry, she managed to channel the darker angels of her nature into crime novels—and she was good at it. To say Perry was incredibly prolific would be an understatement. She published more than 100 books, which have sold 26 million copies worldwide. Many of her detective novels were set in Victorian England. Her notable protagonists were husband and wife crime solvers “Thomas and Charlotte Pitt,” and “Hester and William Monk,” a la “Nick and Norah Charles.”

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Perry did a five-part fictional series centered in World War I, and her most recent novels birthed the protagonist “Daniel Pitt,” who is the son of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. Literary success and recognition afforded Perry top honors, including years on the New York Times bestseller list, an Edgar Award in 2000 for her short story, “Heroes,” and an Agatha Award for lifetime achievement. In 2015, she received the Premio de Honor Aragón Negro (a Spanish literary award), and she was selected by the New York Times as one of 20th Century’s 100 Masters of Crime.

On April 10, 2023, Anne Perry departed this life. She was 84 years old.

Anne Perry, the best-selling crime novelist known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk detective series and for her own murderous past that inspired the movie “Heavenly Creatures,” has died at age 84.

Perry died Monday in Los Angeles from complications of a stroke and several heart attacks, according to her literary agent in North America, Donald Maass.

Perry published more than 100 books, often set in Victorian England, with notable works including the novels “Death of a Stranger,” “Buckingham Palace Gardens” and one scheduled for September, “The Traitor Among Us.” She sold millions of copies and received some of the top honors for crime writing, among them an Edgar Award for the short story “Heroes” and an Agatha Award for lifetime achievement.

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In 2003, The Guardian interviewed Perry, and she explored the shadowy corners of her past life.

Perry’s books grapple with questions of sin and repentence, the price of redemption and forgiveness. “It is vital for me to go on exploring moral matters,” she says. This series – more literary and epic in scope than her pacy earlier novels – will look at personal morality “against the background of that five years of war when things were so changed for men and women. I wanted to explore what people will do when faced with experiences and inner conflicts that test them to the limit.”

Perry credits her time in prison for the change in her life’s trajectory and the key to her redemption.

Perry now calls her time in prison “the best thing that could have happened”. “It was there that I went down on my knees and repented,” she says. “That is how I survived my time while others cracked up. I seemed to be the only one saying, I am guilty and I am where I should be.”

One of the benefits of having a long life and a body of work is that one can share their process. In this short video, Perry describes her process of creating such depth and detail to her World War I series and characters.

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May she rest in peace.

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