The Search for Anne Perry: The Hidden Life of a Bestselling Crime Writer by Joanne Drayton (Harper Collins, 2014)

In the Prologue of The Search for Anne Perry, author Joanne Drayton, sets the scene for a most compelling story to be told. In 1994 Meg Davis, the editor of a large book publishing company in London, received a phone call from a journalist named Lin Ferguson, who was calling from New Zealand. Ferguson was surprised to learn that Davis was clueless about a notorious murder case where two teenage girls, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, had slaughtered Parker's mother in 1954, forty years before. The young women had bludgeoned Honora Parker with a brick knotted into a sock, and had paid for the crime by spending five years doing hard time in prison. Ferguson stunned Davis by revealing, “I think Juliet Hulme is your client, Anne Perry.”

Davis's initial reaction was to laugh. After all, Anne Perry was one of the most respected novelists in the business, having penned over twenty extremely popular detective novels, set in the Victorian era. Davis had known Perry for years and was incredulous at the idea that her solemn client could have ever committed such a heinous crime. Davis phoned Perry immediately to inform her that Ferguson intended to publish the accusation and Davis suggested that they hire a lawyer, but Perry's shocking response was, “You can't refute it—-because it's true.”

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This opening for a book about the hidden life of a renowned mystery writer provided the perfect hook to draw in the reader to a tale that has at its roots a secret that had been protected for forty years. What forced the revelation to be made public in 1994 was the fact that film director Peter Jackson was making his first mainstream picture, entitled Heavenly Creatures. The subject of the movie was the intricate relationship between two teenagers, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme. A young Kate Winslet portrayed the extremely brilliant Juliet (Perry) in the film. Shortly after the film's release, the discovery of Anne Perry's true identity was made.

As The Search for Anne Perry proceeds, it is clear that Drayton gave careful consideration to the structure of how Anne Perry's story should be told. Drayton begins with the revelation that Anne Perry is, in fact, a murderess, but she does not tell the story in a straight line narrative. Instead, the opening chapter of the book deals with Perry's struggle to fulfill her lifelong dream to become a published author. Having changed her name when she left New Zealand, Perry first moved to Los Angeles, California where she worked for a short time as a stewardess. Tired of being a glorified waitress in the sky, Perry moved to an isolated cottage in Portmahomock, Scotland where she struggled to find a publisher who would take her writing seriously. Her first four novels were rejected, and then her father made an powerful suggestion to her. He noted that her style would lend itself best to detective novels, and she mulled this over. Ultimately, she realized that he was right, and made another important decision, which was to set her detective stories in Victorian England.

Perry also realized that she might be best served by finding an agent to represent her rather than blindly peddling books to publishers, and this did prove to be the turning point in her fledgling career. However, the payment that she received for her first novel, The Cater Street Hangman, (1979) was so poor that she could barely survive on it. Despite the low payment that she received for her first book, the novel launched the famous series about Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, a series that Perry continues to write today.

As the biography continued, Drayton wove in the details of the friendship between the lethal teenagers and their crime, rather than telling that story in its totality. She also included a synopsis of many Perry books into the mix, tying in Perry's emotional development, including guilt and self-recrimination into the characters, plots, and themes of every novel. Although the reader is hungry to read more about Perry's crime and try to reconcile how she could have done something so heinous and become the heralded success that she is today, Drayton makes the reader wait until the book's end to get the whole story.

While in prison, Perry had an epiphany about the enormity of her crime and realized the horror of what she had done, which propelled her into a life of religious dedication and slavish work. Anne Perry, a devout member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, has spent her entire adult life devoted to her writing. The amount of her annual output as an author is staggering.

Fiercely private, and reluctant to speak about her past mistakes, she was hesitant to allow anyone to write a biography about her life. However, Drayton proved to be the perfect choice to tell this important story of misdeed and redemption. Drayton met Anne Perry in Meg Davis's office, where she immediately made a human connection with the author of over one hundred novels, and the winner of the prestigious Edgar award for her short story “Obsession” in 2001. Perry's books continually make the New York Times Best Seller List, and her work is published world wide. During the course of writing the biography Drayton spent many days getting to know Anne Perry and reconciling that human being with the writer.

Of Anne Perry Drayton concluded, “Anne Perry explains herself in her writing. In the stories of flawed protagonists who fail the world and themselves but transcend their past to find forgiveness. They battle their history, the corrupter influences of the world and their own fallibility and self doubt. It is a familiar literary conceit that, for Anne, has become a default position. Its suspense and resolution are perfectly suited to crime fiction. She writes prodigiously and with imagination and penetrating intelligence. And until the world finally 'gets it,' and she can forgive herself, it is a story that she will tell over and over again.”

Finally, and above all, Drayton's work makes the reader want to go out and read every Anne Perry novel ever written, which is the outcome of revealing the details of her life that Perry most likely would find appealing. Drayton skillfully whets the appetite of the reader with just enough about each Perry book to entice the reader to embrace Perry's canon. In fact, when I finished In Search of Anne Perry, I made a visit to my local bookstore and treated myself to two of her books. I look forward to reading and reviewing the first of the Inspector Monk series The Cater Street Hangman. If you are a fan of biographies that incorporate history and a taste of book reviews, have a go with In Search of Anne Perry.