Anne Perry Essay - Critical Essays

Perry, Anne


Anne Perry 1938–

(Born Juliet Marion Hulme) English mystery writer.

The following entry provides an overview of Perry's career through 1998.

Anne Perry is known for her evocation of Victorian England, which she uses as backdrop in her two mystery series. Her novels are characterized by vivid characters, intricate relationships, and the exploration of moral dilemmas.

Biographical Information

Anne Perry was born Juliet Marion Hulme in London, England. As a child she suffered from various lung illnesses, causing her parents to move the family to New Zealand for the better climate. Perry spent most of her solitary childhood in hospitals. In New Zealand she struck up a fatal friendship with Pauline Parker, who convinced Perry to help her kill Parker's mother. Perry and Parker were both convicted of the 1954 murder and subsequently spent five and a half years in prison. When she was released, she returned to live with her mother in England and took her stepfather's last name Perry. She never finished her formal education and began a series of odd jobs, including flight attendant, assistant buyer for a department store, and a limousine dispatcher. Perry moved from England to the United States and while working as a nanny, she discovered the Mormon religion to which she has remained committed ever since. Perry began writing historical novels in 1972, but had trouble focusing on historical detail. She redirected her efforts to the mystery genre, and sold her first novel, The Cater Street Hangman, which was published in 1979. Perry is a prolific, best-selling writer who has published steadily since her first book. There was significant publicity surrounding her previous identity upon the release of the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures, which chronicled the infamous New Zealand murder. Rather than hindering her book sales, however, fans remained loyal, and interest in Perry's work by those previously not acquainted with her escalated.

Major Works

Perry sets her detective novels in Victorian England and uses historical detail to create setting and atmosphere. Perry's novels are characterized by observations of morals and values in the Victorian era. She often uses the fear of loss or an ethical conundrum as motives in her narratives. Perry has two major mystery series. The first focuses on Charlotte and Thomas Pitt. She is an upper-class woman who has chosen to "marry down." He is a middle-class police officer. Perry often plays off the pair's obvious differences. Pitt is familiar with the seedy side of London and the psychology of the criminal mind. Charlotte opens aristocratic doors to Pitt which would normally be forever sealed. Perry uses her novels to uncover moral issues that plagued Victorian England. The Pitts uncover the crime of infanticide in Callander Square (1980) and incest and child abuse in Cardington Crescent (1987). Bethlehem Road (1990), investigates the severity of Victorian property laws, Highgate Rise (1991) investigates high society members who are secretly slum lords, and Ashworth Hall (1997) tackles the politically controversial "Irish Question." William Monk and his friend Hester Latterly are the protagonists of Perry's other series, which begins with The Face of a Stranger (1990). The plot twist here is that Monk suffers from amnesia due to a carriage accident. He is simultaneously constructing his own identity as he moves through criminal investigations, first as a police officer and later as a private investigator. In A Sudden, Fearful Death (1993), Perry addresses the questions of women's rights and abortion through Monk's investigation of the rape of a young woman and the earlier murder of a nurse. In Cain His Brother (1995), Monk looks into the disappearance of a man whose wife suspects her husband's brother of foul play.

Critical Reception

Reviewers often mention Perry's desire to expose the moral and social problems of Victorian England. Rosemary Herbert stated, "her intent has been to entertain the reader with well-paced action and strong plot lines while uncovering societal woes." Critics compliment Perry on her command and elicitation of the Victorian era in her novels. Emily Melton stated, "Perry is wonderfully adept at depicting the customs, manners, morality, fashions, and speech of Victorian London." Some critics, however, find Perry's Victorian details wholly inaccurate. Anthony Lejeune asserted, "[Perry's novels] have been praised by the upmarket American press for their historical authenticity and atmospheric plausibility but authentic and plausible, to anyone with the slightest knowledge of the period, they are certainly not." Reviewers have also accused Perry of infusing too much melodrama in her novels, thus slowing the usual suspense of the detective story. Yet, Perry has developed a loyal following of readers who are drawn to both her characters and their milieus. Linda DuVal concluded, "Although she's a master storyteller, it's her finely drawn characters and her penchant for dealing with social and moral issues that keep readers coming back."

Principal Works

The Cater Street Hangntan (novel) 1979
Callander Square (novel) 1980
Paragon Walk (novel) 1981
Resurrection Row (novel) 1982
Rutland Place (novel) 1983
Bluegate Fields (novel) 1984
Death in the Devil's Acre (novel) 1985
Cardington Crescent (novel) 1987
Silence in Hanover Close (novel) 1988
Bethlehem Road (novel) 1990
The Face of a Stranger (novel) 1990
A Dangerous Mourning (novel) 1991
Highgate Rise (novel) 1991
Belgrave Square (novel) 1992
Defend and Betray (novel) 1992
Farriers' Lane (novel) 1993
A Sudden, Fearful Death (novel) 1993
The Hyde Park Headsman (novel) 1994
The Sins of the Wolf (novel) 1994
Cain His Brother (novel) 1995
Traitors Gate (novel) 1995
Pentecost Alley (novel) 1996
Weighed in the Balance (novel) 1996
Ashworth Hall (novel) 1997
The Silent Cry (novel) 1997


Publishers Weekly (review date 5 April 1991)

SOURCE: A review of Highgate Rise, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 238, No. 16, April 5, 1991, p. 138.

[In the following review, the critic concludes, "Rounded out by a host of lively characters, [The Face of a Stranger] is a memorable tale."]

Having temporarily abandoned Victorian police inspector Thomas Pitt and his highborn wife, Charlotte, in her last, highly acclaimed novel, The Face of a Stranger, Perry features the duo once again. She exhibits her customary skill in recreating 19th-century London, but here her well-drawn contrasts of upstairs and downstairs Victorian society have added psychological acuity. And her focus on a social issue—the secret ownership by members of high society of appalling slum housing—lends depth to the mystery surrounding the death of Clemency Shaw, a courageous woman who devoted her life—and may have lost it—to exposing those who built their fortunes on the misery of the poor. Highgate is a posh Victorian neighborhood that becomes the scene of some highly dramatic house fires that consume people dear to Dr. Shaw, Clemency's husband, a free-speaking liberal who is Perry's most dynamic character to date. Just who is the target of these infernos? Thomas and Charlotte seek answers, while Charlotte in particular finds that Clemency's legacy of compassion did not die with her, Rounded out by a host of lively characters, this is a memorable tale.

Anne Perry with Diana Cooper Clark (Fall-Winter 1992)

SOURCE: "Interview with Anne Perry," in Clues, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 52-65.

[In the following interview, Perry discusses her writing style, her major characters, and the reason she places her detective fiction in the Victorian Era.]

[Cooper Clark:] You first published The Cater Street Hangman in 1979. As a novelist who is relatively new to the world of detective fiction, what kinds of problems have you encountered? In getting acknowledged? Having your books available? With sales? Advertising?

In America I have had few problems, although I don't know about advertising of course, not having been there. In Britain unfortunately I have had...

(The entire section is 7882 words.)

Emily Melton (review date 15 March 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Farrier's Lane, in Booklist, March 15, 1993, p. 1300.

[In the following review, Melton lauds Perry's Farrier's Lane.]

Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries, set in Victorian London, are a long-running success on the historical whodunit circuit. In the duo's thirteenth adventure [Farrier's Lane]. Thomas is investigating the murder of a prominent judge, a crime he feels is linked to the macabre Farrier's Lane murder. A young Jew, Aaron Godman, was hanged for the Farrier's Lane crime some years before, but the murdered judge, who heard Godman's final appeal, seemed to be considering reopening the case. The evidence in both murders...

(The entire section is 208 words.)

Thomas Boyle (review date 17 October 1993)

SOURCE: "Strangled by Gaslight," in New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1993, p. 47.

[In the following review, Boyle attributes many of the problems of Perry's A Sudden, Fearful Death, to its unfocused protagonist William Monk.]

Anne Perry has published more than a dozen crime novels set in Victorian England. Her labors have brought her a wide readership and a certain beyond-the-genre literary distinction. A Sudden, Fearful Death is the fourth in a series whose nominal hero is William Monk, a police officer who left the London force under an unspecified cloud to set up shop as one of the first private detectives. He is subsidized by Lady Callandra...

(The entire section is 781 words.)

Anne Perry with John Darnton (interview date 5 March 1995)

SOURCE: "Writer Perry Faces Up to Dark Secret of Murder," in Star Tribune, March 5, 1995, p. IF.

[In the following interview, Perry discusses her involvement in a 1954 murder in New Zealand.]

Interviewing Anne Perry, the detective novelist who harbored the dark secret of her identity as an adolescent murderer, is frustrating. It's like trying to capture the mist that rolls off the mountains in the Scottish Highlands where she makes her home.

It is not that she is reluctant to talk. Far from it. The words come out in compulsive torrents. With little prompting she speaks about her early years, her childhood pneumonia and bronchitis, the "courage and...

(The entire section is 1389 words.)

Anne Perry with Mary Ann Grossman (interview date 15 March 1995)

SOURCE: "Long Ago Murder Haunts Mystery Writer Author Anne Perry," in St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 15, 1995.

[In the following interview, Grossman talks about her life and how she is dealing with the publicity surrounding her past.]

When Anne Perry says that "courage, compassion and integrity are the three greatest virtues," there isn't much doubt she's talking about the importance of these qualities in her own life.

Perry is the internationally known author of 20 Victorian mysteries, praised by critics and fans for their historical accuracy, attention to detail and explorations of the nuances of life in England when the sun never set on the Empire....

(The entire section is 1567 words.)

Barbara Wickens (essay date 27 March 1995)

SOURCE: "Haunted by Homicide," in Maclean's, Vol. 108, No. 13, March 27, 1995, p. 61.

[In the following essay, Wickens discusses the problems that have plagued Ann Perry since the revelation of her involvement in a 1954 homicide in New Zealand.]

Anne Perry is nothing if not persistent. For years she led the sort of hand-to-mouth 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,...

(The entire section is 984 words.)

Emily Melton (review date August 1995)

SOURCE: A review of Cain His Brother, in Booklist, August, 1995, p. 1911.

[In the following review, Melton praises Perry's Cain His Brother for its "superb plotting, fine writing, intriguing characters, and outstanding historical detail."]

Perry's lingering fame from the murder she committed as an adolescent won't hurt her latest book's popularity, but there's no doubt that her historical mysteries would be critical and popular successes no matter what her background. Victorian detective William Monk returns [in Cain His Brother], this time in one of the most challenging cases he's ever faced. Genevieve Stonefield begs Monk to find her missing...

(The entire section is 238 words.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 22 January 1996)

SOURCE: A review of Pentecost Alley, in Publishers Weekly, January 22, 1996, p. 62.

[In the following review, the critic praises Pentecost Alley stating, "As Perry edges toward her surprise ending, she crafts her tale with elegance, narrative depth and gratifying scope."]

The 16th Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery [Pentecost Alley], demonstrates Perry's trademark skill for enhancing well-designed mystery plots with convincing historical settings and cleverly drawn relationships among characters. In this outing, Pitt, last seen in Traitors Gate, tackles a case that could cost him his career. As it has been only two years since the unsolved...

(The entire section is 267 words.)

Anthony Lejeune (review date 6 May 1996)

SOURCE: "A Little Knowledge," in National Review, May 6, 1996, pp. 54-5.

[In the following review, Lejeune discusses the effect of knowing Perry's background on our reading of her work.]

"An incredible three million copies of her books have been sold in America," boast Anne Perry's British publishers. Incredible, no: if they say so, I believe them. A bit puzzling, yes; the reason for such popularity is not altogether clear. But the operative word in that boast is "America." Although Miss Perry is a British writer, living in Britain, her books are much less well known on the eastern side of the Atlantic. And that's not puzzling at all.

Her novels, set...

(The entire section is 1515 words.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 2 September 1996)

SOURCE: A review of Weighed in the Balance, in Publishers Weekly, September 2, 1996, p. 116.

[In the following review, the critic lauds the courtroom scenes in Weighed in the Balance.]

The byzantine politics and aristocratic squabbles of a small German principality called Felzburg exasperate and puzzle William Monk in his seventh distinctive appearance (Cain His Brother) [Weighed in the Balance]. Monk, a Victorianera "agent of inquiry," is still haunted by a baffling amnesia, and he feels that his associates—the rigidly proper barrister Sir Oliver Rathbone and the uncompromising and outspoken nurse Hester Latterly—have taken on more than they can...

(The entire section is 281 words.)

Marietta Dunn (review date 29 January 1997)

SOURCE: A review of Weighed in the Balance, in Philadelphia Inquirer, January 29, 1997.

[In the following review, Dunn asserts that although Weighed in the Balance is not Perry's best work, the continuing narrative of William Monk does keep the reader coming back.]

Since 1979, the prolific Anne Perry has been turning out a stream of Victorian detective novels featuring Inspector Thomas Pitt and his high-born wife, Charlotte, as they uncover social evils in England and unmask the hypocrisy of those in high society.

Several years ago, Perry added a second Victorian series, one with a clever conceit at its core. The series has as its hero...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Rich Gotshall (review date 27 April 1997)

SOURCE: A review of Ashworth Hall, in Indianapolis Star, April 27, 1997, p. D6.

[In the following review, Gotshall asserts that readers of Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series will not be disappointed with Ashworth Hall.]

Anne Perry is a novelist for the '90s.

The 1890s.

Her mysteries take place during the heyday of Victorian England. Her attention to detail and sense of social order make them read like the best of the works written during that period, rather than re-creations a century later.

Ashworth Hall is the 17th novel featuring Superintendent Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. Yet, the work stands...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

Linda DuVal (essay date 30 April 1997)

SOURCE: "Ann Perry Is a Master at Creating Fascinating Characters, Moral Dilemmas." in Gazette Telegraph, April 30, 1997.

[In the following essay, DuVal discusses Perry's writing style and use of characterization in her novels.]

British mystery writer Anne Perry is a master at creating fascinating characters and dramatic moral dilemmas. It's territory she's explored in her life, as well as her art.

As a teen-ager, Perry helped a friend murder her friend's mother. She served time for it. and doesn't talk about it in her interviews and book tours.

It's hard to believe this poised, compassionate woman was once convicted of a crime. She...

(The entire section is 1467 words.)

Jane Dickinson (review date 19 October 1997)

SOURCE: A review of The Silent Cry, in Rocky Mountain News, October 19 1997, p. 4E.

[In the following excerpt, Dickinson complains of the obvious ending and difficult to believe plot of Perry's The Silent Cry.]

… Anne Perry's novels of Victorian England are prominent on the list of historical mysteries, a rapidly growing niche within the genre that some of us find a bit hard to take. Nevertheless, the best of the bunch deserve the attention of all mystery lovers. The Silent Cry, alas, is not among the best.

Perry's 1996 novel Pentecost Alley was one of the weaker nominees for an Edgar this year. The Silent Cry, though...

(The entire section is 331 words.)

Margo Kaufman (review date 23 November 1997)

SOURCE: A review of The Silent Cry, in Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1997, p. E2.

[In the following excerpt, Kaufman praises Perry's The Silent Cry, stating that "[t]he denouement is shocking, and the characters are so richly drawn that you'll miss them when they're gone."]

… Anne Perry's new Victorian thriller, The Silent Cry, featuring surly amnesiac investigator William Monk and feisty nurse Hester Latterly, is the author's best effort in a couple of years.

Leighton Duff, a respected solicitor, is found beaten to death in St. Giles, a festering slum "only a stone's throw from Regent Street in the heart of London." Lying...

(The entire section is 245 words.)

Alex Auswaks (review date 16 January 1998)

SOURCE: A review of Pentecost Alley, in Jerusalem Post, January 16, 1998, p. 99.

[In the following excerpt, Auswaks discusses the questions raised in Perry's Pentecost Alley.]

… Two years after the unsolved Ripper murders a young prostitute is found murdered [in Pentecost Alley]. The personal effects of Finlay FitzJames (including a Hellfire Club pin), a handsome and spoilt scion of a rich family, are found in her bed. Is he guilty?

His father is rich and powerful. No policeman dares move against such a family. The family refuses to cooperate. The prostitute's pimp is arrested, tried, sentenced and hanged. But then a second prostitute...

(The entire section is 308 words.)

Lori A. Curnin (review date 26 April 1998)

SOURCE: A review of Brunswick Gardens, in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 26, 1998, p. D5.

[In the following review, Curnin lauds Perry's strong characterization in Brunswick Gardens.]

The mystery in Brunswick Gardens is simple: who pushed Unity Bellwood down the staircase, causing her death? The answer is not as simple as Anne Perry takes us back to a time in the late 1890s London, where intelligent women were forced to the sidelines, it was legal to beat a disobedient wife and Darwin's theory of evolution was just coming to light.

Inspector Thomas Pitt, a recurring Perry character, has the unenviable task of investigating the murder of...

(The entire section is 260 words.)

Margo Kaufman (review date 4 October 1998)

SOURCE: A review of A Breach of Promise, in Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1998, p. 2.

[In the following excerpt, Kaufman praises "the long-awaited romantic denouement [of Perry's A Breach of Promise], which brought tears to my eyes."]

Usually while reading Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries, I am struck by how little humanity has changed in a hundred years. But her latest William Monk novel, A Breach of Promise, knocked me for a loop.

Barrister Oliver Rathbone must defend Killian Melville, a talented young architect being sued for refusing to marry his alleged fiancee, Zillah Lambert, a charming and beautiful heiress. It is...

(The entire section is 291 words.)

Further Reading


Batliner, Doris J. Review of Pentecost Alley, by Anne Perry. Courier-Journal (10 August 1996): p. A9.

Asserts that "The plot of [Pentecost Alley] is convoluted and surprising, and the solution absolutely satisfying."

Coughlin, Ruth. Review of Cain His Brother, by Anne Perry. People (13 November 1995): 3.

Complains of Perry's use of Cockney speech in Cain His Brother.

Dickinson, Jane. Review of A Breach of Promise, by Anne Perry. Rocky Mountain News (20 September 1998): 4E.


(The entire section is 230 words.)