Anne Perry Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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."