Publishers Weekly (review date 5 April 1991)

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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)

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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 almost every problem—neither advertising nor reviews, except one in a local paper. I took my book to the paper myself because I happened to know the journalist. But other than that, nothing in Britain. I have been very fortunate with reviews in America which my publisher has sent me, and I have received letters from readers.

In the last three years you've published four detective novels and you have written two more. In addition, you've written two non-mystery novels. How do you account for this prolific output? Are you bursting with things to say?

Yes, I am. I love to work morning, afternoon and evening. I love to describe things, I love history, I love to try and take a reader into the world that I see: to feel it, taste it, smell it, hear it, to feel as the people concerned feel. There's an old proverb that I believe comes from this part of the world: if you could only walk a mile in the other man's moccasins you'd know how he felt. I suppose this is what I'm trying to say. Historically, everybody has something in common with us today. There's an old French proverb, with which I don't entirely agree, which says that "to understand all is to forgive all." I wouldn't go so far as to say we should forgive all, but to understand all is perhaps at least to love if not to forgive, which is not necessarily the same thing. The essence of my writing is the exploration of the nature of self-mastery, courage and compassion.

Your books reflect this. They remind me of Thoreau's...

(This entire section contains 7882 words.)

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admonition to "Be a Columbus of the mind."

I think that's wonderful. I'd love to be a Columbus of the mind and a Marco Polo and a Magellan.

In what sense?

To be somewhere that I have not been before. I would also like to shed new light on the old possibilities. How is that for a compromise?

Why did you choose to write Victorian mysteries? What is it about the period that attracts you? Was it perhaps the dichotomy and schizophrenia of Victorian society—the woman as whore or Madonna, the very rich and the very poor, the moral rectitude and moral decadence, the violence and obscenity lying under the mannered surface, or as you say in your novel Paragon Walk the nasty little secrets that snap through the civilized veneer?

Exactly. I couldn't have put it as well myself. It is all of that and I also love the civilized violence of some of their conversation, I love their insults, and I like the sense of wit that's wrapped so neatly but is so barbed. I like the sense of period dress as well; it's wonderfully elegant on the exterior. These dramatic contrasts are most interesting.

You can see that cultural dichotomy even in their dress. The well-dressed Victorian woman went out of her house with ten to thirty pounds of clothing on, yet she maintained the illusion of fragility and delicacy.

It's the contrast between illusion and reality which is very satisfying for a mystery writer because after all the essence of mystery is that you should uncover a little at a time and that things should not be obvious. Therefore, I think that the Victorian period is ideal for a mystery writer because so many things are not what they seem.

Yes. In your novel Resurrection Row Aunt Vespasia says that "society is all to do with what seems, and nothing to do with what is." Is that what you're talking about through the character of Aunt Vespasia?

Yes, to a certain extent. She goes a bit further than I would, but a great deal of society is what seems rather than what is. The Victorians had a marvellous ability not to see what they didn't wish to see. They carried it to an even greater art than we have today. Of course, they had to. If they were to look at what was really there, it would have been unbearable, wouldn't it? But I think we today still have a great ability not to see what we don't wish to see.

I agree with that. On the subject of historical mysteries, Peter Lovesey has written: "And how productive the nineteenth century was of motives for murder. The need to achieve security by inheritance, or life insurance, or marriage; the risk of losing it when scandal threatened; the equating of sex with sin; the stigma of insanity; the things that went unsaid. Our world of social welfare and easier divorce and psychiatric care has removed many of the bad old reasons for murder. How uninspiring, too, by contrast with times past, are the modern weapons—the gun with telescopic sights, the car bomb and hypodermic syringe. Give me Jack the Ripper's knife or Neill Cream's bag of poisons or Lizzie Borden's axe."

He's said it all there. I think in a good mystery story the reader should identify with the criminal and feel that in those circumstances. "I might well have felt compelled to do the same thing if I was frightened enough and cornered. It's not outside understanding that a person should do this." I don't like motives of just pure greed or just pure malice unless there is a very strong reason. I like to feel that the reader would identify with the criminal, with all the people involved, and with the detective. I always feel that insanity or just pure basic greed are cop-outs. I don't exactly want the reader to feel "there but for the grace of God go I," but at least the reader should understand why it was that this person felt this way. I agree with Peter Lovesey. There were so many more motives in Victorian society. They were far more restricted. Other alternatives were not there.

Do you think that everybody's capable of murder, given the right circumstances?

I should think most people are, yes, if they are frightened enough and they have to act quickly enough either in defence of themselves or in defence of somebody else they care for deeply and the means are at hand. I don't know about absolutely everybody but a great many people. But whether it would be classed as murder or self-defence or whatever, I'm not sure. May we say capable of killing rather than capable of murder?

That's perhaps a better distinction.

Murder presupposes a certain guilt whereas killing can be justifiable homicide. I would think most women were capable of killing to defend a child, probably most men to defend their children or their wives or their homes, especially if they didn't have time to think, to find another way out. Time is a strong element.

Would you be capable of killing?

I don't know. I would think probably, if I felt that it was the only answer. Almost certainly, yes, if I was defending somebody else.

I'm thinking here of your character Dominic, because one of the points that you make in two books is that he doesn't have the passion or imagination to kill. Do you think that somebody with, let's say extreme sensibility and intense emotion within themselves, would be more capable of killing?

Yes, but Dominic might kill if he was cornered and it was a matter of self-defence, but he'd have to be driven very hard.

To change the subject, is your "sleuth," Charlotte, the new emerging woman that Thomas Hardy speaks about in his novels? She's a woman who dares to defy convention by marrying a policeman, Thomas Pitt, a man who is socially beneath her.

Charlotte is just me. If she wants something badly enough she'd do it and think afterwards; she'll do it and pay the price, thinking later, "good heavens, what have I done, what has it cost me." But it's an emotional thing, it's not sitting down and thinking, "should I do this or shall I do that?"

So Charlotte isn't really a feminist?

Not consciously but probably subconsciously. You see, I have never been consciously a feminist unless I see a particular case of injustice. I've always been brought up in a family where I have been treated as an equal with my brother so I've never had to fight for intellectual and social equality. Therefore the idea of having to fight for women's rights has only come to me relatively recently. The character of Charlotte is not written with the brain; she's written with the emotions and the guts. She is a lot of me.

In The Cater Street Hangman Charlotte is not a "sleuth." But in your subsequent novels she is. How do you account for this change?

It probably never occurred to her that it was possible for her to do it. She really didn't have much of an opportunity until the murder happened in her own immediate area and then, of course, when she married the policeman she discovered that meddling was rather fun.

Peter Lovesey and Jean Stubbs have suggested that the vicarious need for excitement in very dull lives was important in the Victorian upper class.

Oh yes, I think so. Everything that I have read would indicate that that was very strongly so and a lot of their excesses sprang from boredom. Imagine if there was nothing that you needed to do how quickly you would get bored. If you go on holiday, the first day of doing nothing is marvellous, the second day is less marvellous and by the third day it's driving you crazy. If you have life where you are unnecessary really, it breeds not only boredom but a lack of self-worth.

That's important to Charlotte.

Yes it is. It's important to everybody even if they don't realize it. Many of the people who indulged in some of the peculiar Victorian vices and the general wasting of time—gambling, crazy carriage races, wild flirtations and affairs and what have you—behaved this way because it sprang from boredom. Sometimes this behavior springs from a need to convince yourself that you're alive, that you have a purpose, and that you have an identity.

You're right that everyone needs self-worth but the definition of worth for the beautiful ladylike Victorian woman was that she was useless. It was a way of defining yourself as beautiful—the privilege of not having to work. Uselessness was aesthetic.

Yes, that's true. But if society says that, does it necessarily make for happiness?

That's a good point because Charlotte certainly doesn't accept society's definition of her role in life.

And her sister, Emily, increasingly is finding the static upper class life less satisfying; she enjoys a jolly good meddle as well.

Usually detectives are male and either celibate or with a wife firmly in the background. But Charlotte Pitt is not only highly visible and incorporated into the story, she also becomes involved in the detective work. This is unusual in the Victorian mystery story. Of course she is married to a policeman, and she and her sister Emily can infiltrate the world of "Society"; they can hear things Thomas would not. When you were thinking of the character of Charlotte, is this one of the ways in which you thought you could ease her into her role as sleuth?

I started by wanting to show both upstairs and downstairs in a Victorian household and thereby get both sides of the story. I used Charlotte and her husband, Thomas Pitt, to do this. I'm not sure honestly which idea came first, it sort of happened. This was one way to explore the dichotomy you were referring to earlier. One person wouldn't see both sides behaving naturally. If Charlotte had gone downstairs to the kitchen, the servants would have immediately altered their behavior and if Pitt had gone upstairs into the drawing-room the upper class likewise would have altered their behavior. So in order to see both worlds naturally, I had to have two people from different classes.

I'd like to get back to the subject of women. Women were extremely limited in the Victorian period. Charlotte's father would not allow her to read the newspaper because as the narrator writes in Callander Square, newspapers carry "little else but crime and scandal, and such political notions as were undesirable for the consideration of women, as well, of course, as intellectually beyond them." In addition, men did not like a tongue as frank and undisciplined as Charlotte's.

It's still not so popular for a woman to have intellectual opinions and be quite as frank as Charlotte. I hadn't realized this focus until you asked the question but probably it's a good deal of my own feeling coming through because I've found myself a little less than popular on occasion for being articulate, having opinions and perhaps being less reticent than I might have been about expressing them.

To continue with that, throughout your novels we see that Charlotte has political convictions with regard to Reform Bills in Parliament such as the Poor Laws. Why hasn't her interest (given that she is a woman who is more than aware of the unequal position of women in her society) focused on Women's Property Rights, the Divorce Laws and women's suffrage? Dependence in the Victorian period was a part not only of woman's supposed nature, but also it was incorporated into English law. I wonder why Charlotte has so much compassion and sympathy for the poor when she herself is in a position that is inferior by law and by society.

Give me time, I'll get around to it (laughs). I think it's a very good idea. It's possibly a jolly good motive for another crime. I feel I ought to deal with one thing at a time or it's going to become too confused. But you've given me a good idea, I'll get around to that. We've had quite a number of women suffrage programs on television and I just didn't want to get on the bandwagon. Also women's property rights are now fairly well settled and some of the other things that I've dealt with, in some cases, are still open wounds. You'll have noticed that I've covered child pornography quite a bit; well, you know that's currently on the rise. That is a valid thing to be concerned about because a significant number of children are still abused. Quite a lot of the things I've covered are current whereas women's suffrage is not. We do have the vote and for goodness sake we've got a lady Prime Minister (laughs). We haven't got anything like equal representation in Parliament but there's nothing the law can do about that.

You have a proportionately high number of female murderers in your books. In five novels, you have three female murderers. Why?

Because women were so limited, as we've said before, in their dealing with things. The law didn't give them an opportunity to get out of their difficult situations and when you are as restricted as that you have to take matters into your own hands if you're going to solve the problem to your liking. The more restricted you are by outside circumstances the more inventive and perhaps the more violent you tend to be within those limits. Perhaps it is also because I am a woman that I can think of situations in which a woman might do those things, not that I'm suggesting that it's acceptable or excusable. Possibly the women's motives were stronger because Victorian men had so many other ways out of their particular problems.

Your ratio of female murderers is statistically high but then literature is not sociology.

Also the idea happened to occur to me. When I start to write, the first thing that comes to me before anything else is motive. Now what is a strong motive for a crime? Then I build upon the motives that have occurred to me and it just seems to have been the ones that have been the most appropriate for women.

You said before that Charlotte is yourself, a kind of alter-ego.

A part of me anyway.

I'd like you to clarify those parts and also what about Thomas Pitt? He seems to be a part of you, although perhaps in a lesser way.

Charlotte is physically quite a lot like me or at least when I was her age. I think probably her speech patterns, her thoughts, her instinctive ideas, and much of her behavior is me. But she doesn't have my darker side. I'm more of a fighter than Charlotte. I don't think there is a character that's really as close to me in the detective stories as there is in my historical ones. In my historical novels there are people who are more like me. Also Charlotte has no particular religious conviction, therefore, that whole side of my life which is possibly the most predominant side, is not there. I would like to be as compassionate as Thomas Pitt is, and I would like to have Aunt Vespasia's sense of humor.

Is Charlotte in any way a fantasy for you? Other writers have admitted that their main characters were. The reader is told several times in several novels that Charlotte is Pitt's haven.

Not really. I think if I were going to identify in that sense with either one of them it would be Pitt. Charlotte is far more domestic than I am. I would love to wear the clothes of that period, but that's about as far as the fantasy goes. If I wanted the life of any one of those people it would be Aunt Vespasia's. She has tremendous courage, she's outrageous, she's a fighter, she's compassionate, she's at the top of her tree socially, and there's a streak of ruthlessness in Aunt Vespasia—ruthlessness and courage in fighting for what she wants but yet with great compassion. I don't admire ruthlessness in itself but I admire courage and single-mindedness. If you have power, you have the responsibility to use it well. Power is opportunity; it's opportunity to do well or do badly. If you make a mess of it the penalty is very dreadful but if you do it well what you can achieve is enormous. One of the things that I admire in Aunt Vespasia is that she feels responsible; she has the best qualities of her class, of knowing that every privilege carries a very great responsibility.

She's involved in the Poor Laws.

Yes, she has power, therefore, she knows that she must be responsible for change, for improving things, for seeing that those who do not have the power are cared for. I don't think she would ever walk by on the other side. I hope Charlotte is going to become like her but I can't do it in a hurry because Charlotte is still only young. You see, Charlotte is quite a bit younger than I am.

P. D. James has said about women who write detective fiction: "I think women like writing about human beings and their reaction to each other, and detective novels … as well are about human beings and their reaction to extreme stress. I think that we often write about a fairly domestic situation; the contrast between this and the horror of the actual murder is very effective." Do you agree with that?

Very much, she's put it beautifully. I am really less interested in "who did it" than I am in the stress of the investigation afterwards, and all the other little sins you turn up, as well as the major crime. It's the little sins and what people will do to hide them that I find the most interesting and the most enthralling. It is like peeling the layers off an onion.

We can see this interest in all your novels. In your next novel, Funeral at Rutland Place, the narrator says that "the mystery of murder was ephemeral, even paltry: it was the emotions, the fire of pain, and the long wastelands afterwards that were real." In Callander Square, we're told that "murder and investigation reveal to us so many things about each other which we would rather not have known." In Resurrection Row, Pitt wonders whether Dominic is "afraid of the scandal and all the dark, corroding suspicions, the old sores opened up that investigation always brings." In The Cater Street Hangman, nobody can trust anyone else. Charlotte understands that it's "like ripples on a pool, and perhaps the rings would never stop." As recently as 1980, the police urged British women to think carefully about all the men that they knew, including their husbands and fathers, in case one of them was the dreaded Yorkshire Ripper.

This is exactly what I'm trying to write about—the distress and the suspicion and the fear and the re-examination of everything that you've previously taken for granted. I can remember frequently the radio, television and newspapers advising us to not exclude anybody. I wrote Cater Street before this happened but it's just this sort of situation and really I'm only using the crime as a catalyst to peel off the layers of everything else in people's lives and lay bare the truth. Truth has a fascination for me even if it's an unpleasant truth. There is something beautiful even in the most naked, bare or otherwise ugly truth simply because it is truth and in the end you have to return to it. Maybe you can't take it all at once but there isn't anything else to build upon.

Do you read detective fiction?

I've been reading quite a bit since I came here to Toronto and haven't had a television. I've been buying different authors and reading maybe three or four of their works and studying them and I've learned a lot. Before that I've thoroughly enjoyed people like Josephine Tey but really I have done very little reading. I was only writing to my own needs, instincts and obsessions but not to a formula. I do plan my book out before I start because I couldn't possibly just start writing and hope it would end up in the right place. I have to know the end before I write the beginning. Even in the historicals I'm writing toward a conclusion the entire time.

You've written two (as yet unpublished) non-mystery novels. Do you fear that fans will tie you to Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Victorian mysteries? Ruth Rendell's fans clamor for more Wexford novels every time she tries to write a non-Wexford and she'd like to do other things. Or are you still at the stage where you're very happy that people are clamoring for Charlotte and Thomas?

I'm delighted that people like Charlotte and Pitt. I'm aware that there is a difficulty with the historical novels I write because they are not "romantic." I know that there is a difficulty in classifying them but I'm not prepared to alter them. I'll just have to let my agent and such publishers as might be interested worry about what they're going to do. They might have to be published under a man's name because I understand that historical novels written by a woman are automatically slotted into "romance" but when they are written by a man they are slotted into perhaps the more political power struggle. My novels focus on the political power struggle. If readers see a woman's name on the jacket, the ones who want the political focus will not look at it and the ones that want romance will look at it and see that it's not what they wanted and put it down. As a result nobody will buy my book (both laugh).

Do mystery and non-mystery stories satisfy different parts of your literary being and if so in what way?

I suppose they do. I hadn't really thought about that but, yes, they do satisfy different parts of my personality. I enjoy constructing a mystery and then peeling it off bit by bit. The Victorian era is very different from the other historical periods that I have chosen. I think lots of people like a mystery. It is the same as filling in a crossword puzzle or discovering anything little by little. There is in most people something that likes to unwrap layer by layer and spin out the pleasure of discovering a mystery. My historicals deal with fictional people observing very tumultuous and conflicting real events. I just love the drama and the knowledge that this really happened. Human beings like myself experienced these things and were torn apart by these fears, terrors, beliefs and ideals, and writing about it is the next best thing to going back and actually seeing it. In fact, it's even better because you have all the excitement and the internal knowledge without the actual pain or physical danger. I have written a novel about the Spanish Inquisition called Thou With Clean Hands. I think the Spanish Inquisition period for the ethical conflict was one of the most fascinating. Many of the conflicts, particularly over "free agency," are still very apposite today. We don't these days feel passionately about religion but we do about politics and we'll bomb other people to death for their own good (laughs).

That's like the Crusades.

Yes, "better dead than red" or whatever it might happen to be which is the same basic feeling as "better dead than a heretic"—"we must cut out this infection before it spreads any further; you may not realize this, dear, but for your own good, better we should kill part of you than that all of you should fall to whatever it is that we don't like whether it's communism or Lutheranism or Catharism or whatever it might be." One can understand that there was a certain genuine feeling with the Inquisitors, "I'm saving your soul and if it has to be at your body's expense, well, that's dreadful but better your body perish than your soul." I must respect that. I can exalt, preach, teach, love and plead with you but if at the end of that you choose to believe differently that is your right. It's a very difficult conclusion to come to and even now we all try to persuade people who are closest to us of our own way of belief and we feel we are doing them a favor and that we have a responsibility to do so. It's very difficult to allow people you care for to go the way that you believe is a mistake. I have also written a novel about the French Revolution, Lower Than The Angels. The more I look at the tragic revolutions that we keep having in the world (how many we've had in the last forty years!) they do almost always seem to follow a very similar pattern. The French Revolution was perhaps in some ways the most dramatic because it had so many larger-than-life figures in it and it's sufficiently distant from us that we can see it more clearly now. Yet it's sufficiently close to us that there's a great deal of record about it down to what people actually said and what they wore and many diaries still extant. I think it is a valid thing to explore because we know a great deal about it and the pattern seems to persist tragically.

The Victorians hadn't accepted the combination of good and evil in one person. They could not accept ambivalence. Martha Prebble in The Cater Street Hangman is a good example of this. There's always a sense of irreconcilable pain and suffering in your novels. This creates tension between the Victorian rigidity and the Victorian disorder.

I would like to think that I don't tie these important experiences up because life isn't like that. Any crime is going to scar. Crime is a tragedy and it is going to scar a lot of people. It isn't going to be tidied away and the police can't put it in a bag and carry it off and that's the end of it. It's bound to leave wounds behind in almost everybody it touches. I would like to make my novels true to life at least in that respect.

In Paragon Walk, Pitt says that he dislikes hanging although it was "a part of society's mechanics to purge itself of a disease." W. H. Auden has talked about this and so has Julian Symons.

Characters at one time or another say a lot of things that I don't necessarily agree with. In the most recent novel I've written (which is as yet unpublished), Bluegate Fields, I made a fairly strong statement about hanging and that's what I really feel. Until such time as we can be absolutely sure that we are justified, I question hanging as a solution to crime. And even so I like to give people the opportunity to repent because people do change. I believe very, very passionately in the opportunity to repent. I can't afford not to have the opportunity and don't want to refuse it to anybody else. As far as hanging people is concerned, many mistakes have been made through British law. If you put somebody in prison and you discover afterwards that they were not guilty, that is bad enough; you could never give them back those years and the damage you've done them. But if you hang them, there is nothing at all you can do. If God were the judge, all right; He doesn't make mistakes but we do. Therefore, we can't afford to do something irreparable.

Would you feel that way if your mother or father had been the victim of a murder?

I don't know but I hope so. The fact that a person is my mother or father doesn't make them any more valuable than if they were somebody else's mother or father or nobody's mother or father. A wound to me is not more serious than a wound to anybody else.

Don't you think then that revenge is in any way mythically purging or psychologically purging as some people do?

No, it compounds the wound. It may have been Bacon who said, "He who revenges himself upon his enemy is equal, he who forgives him is superior," and I believe that very strongly. "Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord, I will repay." If you harbor hatred, you may damage somebody else but you certainly damage yourself. So, no, I don't agree that vengeance is purging. I think you've committed a second wrong against yourself.

You've written novels that belong to the tradition of murder as the inexcusable act and justice as the inevitable end. But in some of your novels the murderer escapes society's kind of justice. Nancy Wingate, who wrote a very good article on characters in detective fiction who have escaped society's retribution, believes that the satisfaction of the traditional mystery story comes not from the reader's certainty of the immanence of justice but from his/her certainty of the immanence of truth. It doesn't matter who does the killing, but only that the reader knows who did the crime. In your next novel. Funeral at Rutland Place, the reader discovers the murderer, but Charlotte lets the killer go free. Do you agree that detective stories gratify a passion for truth, not a passion for justice?

Yes, I agree. But while I believe that morality is absolute, it is also complex. I think we are becoming much less rigid in our requirements of detective fiction. We used to be very black and white. Killers were always beyond the pale regardless of how harshly they had been provoked and the law always had to catch up with them or they had to be killed or commit suicide or whatever. We're now getting away from the black and white and nearer to the shades of gray. The public will accept that the killer doesn't necessarily have to either shoot him or herself or get carried away in handcuffs to find a satisfactory end. We're getting much subtler as time goes by. And we're beginning to learn that there are an awful lot of other sins that are not necessarily crimes because it isn't practical in law to have them as such. Nevertheless, there are other things which are almost as unpardonable as killing.

Such as incest or child pornography?

Child pornography, yes, depending upon whether your mind is deranged. Incest, I feel, is a crime of distress and so is pederasty. Usually the people who offend are even more pathetic than the victims.

You are a Mormon with strong beliefs. Harry Kemelman uses the rubric of detective novels to convey the world of Judaism and his beliefs. Father William Kienzle does the same for Roman Catholicism in his detective stories. How do you incorporate your Mormon faith into your novels if you do?

It's there in my philosophy, in my beliefs, but it's never stated. It's coming through subconsciously. It must be in my characters' standards, their values, their beliefs, their sense of responsibility, and the sense that every human being is a son or daughter of God, that there is no separateness from any person regardless of age, sex, color or whatever. Yes, I am my brother's keeper; there is somebody to whom I am answerable. I'm answerable to God not only for what I do but for what I say and what I think. God is my father. To me, a father is somebody who has absolute standards but who will love me even though he doesn't always approve of me and who in the last extreme will do everything he can to save me.

I remember that you talked to me about the pragmatism of the Mormon faith. And Charlotte and Thomas are very pragmatic. Could you explain what you mean by that because I thought it was beautiful?

There is a great deal of deep doctrine which does touch on things of God, things of Holiness, but, yes, it's a very practical religion. It teaches you everything that you need to know to make your life more satisfactory, to help you realize your fullest potential. Mormonism teaches, "man is, that he might have joy," which, to me, is a wonderful thought. Everything that is, exists so that it might fulfill the measure of its creation, whatever it is. If it's a bird, it exists so that it might be the best possible bird; if it's a human being, it exists so that it might fulfill every good potential within it. I suppose Mormonism is such an ingrained part of my life, and it should be, that it comes through everything without having to be said.

I'm delighted. That's the nicest compliment you could possibly pay me.

Charlotte may be more you, but Thomas, as we said before, has your compassion. Did you choose the Victorian period because the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" is so starkly and painfully emphasized?

Yes, because they are so closely side by side. I do love the dramatic, I must admit. The Victorian period is marvellously picturesque too, isn't it, it's beautifully visual. And the two extremes really rub shoulders in the street. I mean, the Devils Acres is in the shadow of Westminster. It's because they are so closely positioned side by side that the effect is so dramatic.

One of the things that strikes me about your novels is that Pitt only explores the upper class, the aristocracy. Why never the lower and middle class?

For a start, the aristocracy is more articulate, therefore, it gives me more scope for generally expressing my feelings and for getting a little bit of humor in. I like the scenery of the beautiful clothes and again, if you are entirely with the less well-off people, you don't get the dichotomy between the two totally different classes. Maybe it's a little bit of wish fulfillment but I identify much more easily with the upper class; I can imagine myself in that situation. We have many really excellent writers in Britain who write of the working class background and its people. I don't feel competent to handle it because I know that I don't understand it although my own grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents, certainly on one side, were very ordinary people. I didn't know them, I've not been brought up in that background and I really think I'd probably make a hash of it. I can glimpse it, I hope, but I feel far more comfortable with the other people. It is more fun to get these catty drawing room parties. The upper class people are much more devious whereas the poorer people would be less subtle perhaps; they wouldn't need to mask things, they wouldn't have the leisure with which to develop these abilities and therefore I think it would be less fun to write about.

Also it allows Pitt the opportunity to exercise his psychological perception of people in an age where there was no forensic medicine or other modern tools of investigation.

Added to which, again, the sort of motive I deal with is more likely to crop up in the upper classes where they have something to protect. If you are very poor, your motives for murder are not likely to be those of protecting your situation or reputation.

In Funeral at Rutland Place, Charlotte wonders if people who get murdered have some "flaw in them that invites murder…. Like Shakespearean tragic heroes—one fatal deformity of soul that mars all the rest that might have been good." In a way that disturbs me because it means that the victim is responsible for his or her murder.

I'm not thinking of murder for gain or chance victims; I'm thinking of domestic situations where the person who is the victim and the person who is the offender have known each other for a long time and it's the result of a relationship. I believe that most murders are domestic. There is very often a flaw or something that has provoked the situation because murder is an awfully extreme way out of anything. In any relationship that is unsatisfactory it's very, very seldom contributed to by only one party. Nearly always both parties contribute to it and that was what Charlotte meant.

Victorians called them "bed" murders. What kind of research do you do for your books—newspapers, books on fashion and furniture, history books, books like Kellow Chesney's The Victorian Underworld?

Yes, particularly The Victorian Underworld. It's a marvellous book. I've got a whole shelf of books at home right from Kellow Chesney up to the High Society. There is a lovely book called, I think but I'm not sure, The Party That Lasted a Hundred Days about the London High Society Season. Also I've got two enormous copies of the illustrated London News for a couple of years in the 1880s and I go through those as well for the advertisements. I do use the books more. I've always been afraid of over-researching since I've been criticised for it earlier on and stories should be about people. Your research should only prevent you from making mistakes. There's tremendous temptation when you find research fascinating yourself to cram in every fact you know and kill the story and thereby kill the relationship between people.

Your novels are complete stories in themselves but they are also linked. There's an evolution. When you wrote The Cater Street Hangman did you have a plan for a series or did it just evolve organically?

It just happened. When I wrote Cater Street I only intended to write one novel. I got rather taken with the idea and I thought this is a lot of fun.

What did you think you'd write after Cater Street?

I was thinking of going back to historicals again. But when Cater Street was accepted that was absolutely marvellous. That was the first book I'd ever had accepted. I think it was my agent who said to me, "Have you thought of doing another one?" Besides I enjoy them.

How did you think of Charlotte and Pitt?

Occasionally, if you are fortunate, you get a character that does more than you expect just as sometimes you get characters you think are going to be great and they die on you. You realize you've written five chapters and you haven't mentioned them again. Pitt, however, sort of charged in and took over. I hadn't particularly intended him to come to life so much but I think I was a little enamored of him myself by the time I had finished.

Many detective novelists such as P. D. James and Friedrich Durrenmatt, believe that the detective and the criminal are mirror images of each other. I don't see that in your books at all.

It isn't there. It's something I've never seen myself. I hadn't even thought of it until I heard other people say so.

Writers like George Bernard Shaw and Colin Wilson have written about the relationship between the artist and the criminal. What do you make of these analogies?

You see, I'm just writing a story; I'm not trying to be as symbolic as that. I'm not being consciously intellectual. Of course, many protagonists have a capacity for evil but one's capacity for evil is pretty much governed by your situation and how tempted you are. Charlotte has a capacity to sometimes be thoughtless as well as all are and her evil is usually unintentional, but then a lot of people's evil is unintentional. It's mixed with fear, confusion and stupidity. Charlotte has hurt people along the way, said and done silly things, which after all is the level of evil that most of us reach. Very often if the evil that you do is greater than that it's because the circumstances have compounded to make your actions result in something much more evil.

In The Cater Street Hangman Charlotte said that when Verity was killed she had been abrupt with her, sharp with her, and now she was dead and she couldn't make it up to her. We talked a little before about how you create a plot. I believe you said that motive comes first.

The motive and the crime come first because I believe very strongly, as you probably observed, in making the crime spring from a very strong feeling. I was thinking the other day about the basic motives for crime that I find satisfactory—fear is one of the strongest, not necessarily physical fear but fear of losing something that is desperately important to you such as reputation, prestige or status. Also hatred, if you've been offended against so desperately that you simply cannot bear it. Anger must be a red hot thing or else outrage that somebody is surviving and is going to continue to do something so monstrous and there is no way within the law that you can prevent them. Greed is a motive but there are times when it's a satisfactory one. I don't like the motive that hinges on inheriting money. I would rather it be the capacity to make more money and somebody stands between you and it. I think I've used that once or twice. I don't like cold-blooded motives; I like people to be driven into corners because then you can identify with them. I view crime as a tragedy, not as an intellectual exercise.

What do you mean?

I suppose here you come back to the Mormon philosophy. Mormon philosophy teaches that the whole of life is progress and every good thing you do increases your spiritual growth while every evil thing you do or opportunity for the good lost, sets you back a step. Although you may well offend against others and you may offend against God. the greatest offence is against yourself because you have diminished what you might have been. If you commit an offence of any sort, the person who suffers irreparably is yourself because it is your soul that you have damaged. Therefore, any crime is a tragedy most of all for the person who commits it; of course, it's a tragedy for the person against whom it is committed but that may be reparable if not in this world perhaps in the next. As the offender, you can never be as if you hadn't done it; you may repent, you may learn from it, and you may forgive yourself, and certainly if you repent the Lord will forgive you, but the real damage you've done is to yourself.

Anne, why do you write?

I love to, I have to, it's necessary to me. The other day somebody said to me, "You shouldn't write so much, you are turning out too much," and I spoke to my agent Nancy, and said, "I don't know that I can help it." Her reply: "You can't write less, it's like telling the birds not to sing."

As Carlos Fuentes has said, a story is like something burning in your hand. You must let it go. You told me that this is the first interview that you've ever done. Some writers like V. S. Naipaul think that interviews are wounding, they take a part of you away. Other writers like the Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow says that interviews are like a thumbprint on his windpipe, yet the great poet and novelist James Dickey thinks that interviews are a great art form of our time. Do you find interviews both enjoyable and/or useful as both a writer and a reader?

I would have said that an interview by a good interviewer, such as yourself, is a mirror and therefore it is very useful indeed. It will hopefully show you your best side and perhaps some of the flaws because if you don't see the flaws you can't do anything about them. I find it enjoyable and extremely useful as a writer. I enjoy reading good interviews; if the creative process and the thought process and the beliefs of the writers are gone into, it gives an added dimension to their work. If I don't learn from this interview, I'm stupid.

Finally, are you comfortable with physical and/or psychological violence? Why do you think you write physical violence so well?

I find physical violence relatively easy to write even if it distresses me horribly when I read it back. I don't know. It's something I haven't resolved. It's a dark side of me that I don't understand yet.

Emily Melton (review date 15 March 1993)

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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 is frustratingly difficult to uncover and the witnesses strangely reluctant to talk. The stymied Pitt is under pressure from his superiors to solve the judge's murder quickly and leave the earlier case buried. It's Charlotte to the rescue, proving that a wife's social contacts are as valuable as a copper's badge. Perry is wonderfully adept at depicting the customs, manners, morality, fashions, and speech of Victorian London. Her characters are authentically and appealingly drawn, and her plot is sinister, gripping, and intense, with a surprising but satisfying ending. Like the earlier entries in the series, this is certain to be popular with fans of historical mysteries.

Thomas Boyle (review date 17 October 1993)

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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 Daviot, an unkempt widow of means and good intentions, whose only requirement is that Monk disclose to her some of the details of his adventures in the demimonde.

In the early pages of the novel, Monk is summoned to investigate the rape of a respectable young woman in her family's backyard. With little legwork or concrete evidence, Monk solves the case summarily. The remainder of the novel concerns the mystery of the fatal strangling of an educated and ambitious nurse who had served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea (the time of the action is 1857, a year after the end of that war). This investigation is carried out not only by Monk but also by the regular police, with amateur turns provided by Lady Callandra and another Crimeaveteran nurse.

Unfortunately, A Sudden, Fearful Death is a miasma of narrative infelicities that makes one yearn for a revival of the real Victorian practitioners of unreadable melodrama—Bulwer-Lytton, say, or Mrs. Henry Wood. Much of its difficulty seems centered on the unfocused character of Monk, who, we are told early on, had been in a recent accident "and woken … knowing nothing of himself at all, not even his name. Certainly it was the crack to his head which had brought it on, but as fragments of memory had returned, snatches here and there, there was still a black horror which held most of it from him, a dread of learning the unbearable…. He still felt a dark fear about things he might yet discover."

A detective with a shattered memory who thinks in overheated, equally shattered prose is a most unpromising guide through a suspense thriller. Moreover, the mystery of Monk's "dark fear" of his past is never resolved in the book, leaving one to wonder why it is introduced at all. This absence of development is reflected in a larger way in the minimal sense of any movement toward a solution to the central crime, the murder of the nurse, until, deus ex machina, an innocent—and apparently extremely stupid—woman remembers in the closing pages that she has in her possession letters that will identify with certainty not only villain but motive and finally bring to an end the interminable investigation and climactic trial.

Nor are such lines and situations anomalies in this novel. Barely a page goes by without another example of grammatical and narrative incoherence, as if the text has been constructed as a kind of mirror image of Monk's identity crisis. Frequently the dialogue and expository passages seem to have been constructed by two different, noncommunicating intelligences. A serious question is posed by a detective, usually "dryly"; the respondent then comes back with a remark accompanied by an inexplicable smile or some other puzzling display of humor—puzzling considering the gravity of the situation, and since none of these facial tics lead to any revelation of character or advancement of the plot. ("Monk smiled with a downturn of the corners of his mouth," an act that, after considerable experimentation, proves physically impossible.)

It would seem that Ms. Perry (and her editors) have set out to satisfy two of the most enduring—and most base—of the undiscriminating reader's desires. These are the provision of speciously significant information, which makes the lazy reader feel educated without requiring him actually to learn anything, and, secondly, the illusion of having one's social consciousness raised, giving complacency to couch potatoes.

So, yes, as the plot grinds on we are exposed to patches of the social history of Victorian England, about as much as can be garnered in a half-hour of documentary television. Yes, the streets were cesspools and the hospitals breeding grounds of disease and the methods of the regular police (and forensic science) rudimentary at best.

And, yes, again, the sensitive and au courant subjects of women's rights and abortion are raised, indeed are essential to the final explanation of the killing. But anyone looking in these pages for enlightenment will be disappointed. Ms. Perry's ultimate message is as hopelessly muddled as Monk's memory.

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

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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 love" of her parents, her deep attachment to her father, a time of trial in prison, her epiphanic conversion to the Mormon church in northern California.

It's that when all the words are added up, she has shed little light on the crime that shocked a nation 40 years ago and half a world away. The motives that caused two young girls to conspire and kill the mother of one in August 1954, after taking afternoon tea in a sunny park in Christchurch, New Zealand, are as elusive as ever.

"Like any other traumatic experience, nature helps you to put it away," she said. "All I can remember was feeling very afraid and very jammed into a corner. I didn't want to do it and I couldn't think of any way of getting out of it."

She cannot, she said, recall anything at all about the crime itself and very few details about the subsequent trial, other than "the sense of helplessness when people tell lies about you and you can't say, 'No, that's not how it was.'"

Perry, 55, was forced to admit her prior identity as 15-year-old Juliet Marion Hulme because of interest in the murder case stirred up by Heavenly Creatures. The film, which she refuses to see, opened in the United States in November but did not open in Scotland until mid-February.

To counter what she insists is a grotesque and distorted portrait of herself, she has participated in a publicity campaign to tell the world "who I really am." What began as "damage control" has turned into a single-minded and self-absorbed crusade of revelation, obfuscation, justification and attack.

"I think it's time that possibly we question the acceptability of making a film about people who are still living, because of the damage it can do," she said. "It can ruin lives."

Six months ago Perry was beginning to enjoy the luxuries of a writer on the verge of making it truly big: a 12-room stone cottage with a spectacular view of Dornoch Firth and two Jaguars in the driveway. Her 82-year-old mother lives in a nearby fishing village.

Since 1978, her Victorian-era mysteries featuring police superintendent Pitt and inspector Monk have been building a steady readership, especially in the United States, where 3 million copies are in print: She recently signed a $1 million contract to deliver eight more books over the next three years. Her life, outwardly at least, was something of a Scottish idyll, filled with achievement and modest contentment.

Then, with a phone call from her London agent, the idyll ended. The agent was puzzled by calls from a New Zealand reporter with a curious tale, a simple case of mistaken identity, which should be swiftly refuted.

Perry recalled, "I had to say, 'I'm sorry, but you can't. It is true.' I thought I would lose everything. I really thought it would kill my mother."

And so began the mystery writer's long revelation of her own mystery, beginning with a visit to her mother, who had expected the secret to break someday, and phone calls to friends and business colleagues who had no idea of her past. It was, she said, "one of the worst days I've ever lived through."

The 1954 case was a seminal event for New Zealand. It seared the repressive, conservative, English-aping society like a red-hot poker, the way certain murder cases do.

The prosecutor who won a guilty verdict called it a "coldly, callously planned murder committed by two highly intelligent and sane but precocious and dirty-minded little girls." They were sent to prison for 5 1/2 years, and released with new identities on the condition that they never see each other again.

The film tries to explain the crime as an outgrowth of an aberrationally intense friendship with lesbian overtones between Pauline Yvonne Parker, 16, poor and withdrawn, and Juliet Marion Hulme, 15, affluent and English, who suffered from weak lungs that forced her into periods away from her parents.

Based in part on diaries kept by Pauline, the film depicts the two as outcasts in school who spin an elaborate fantasy world of movie idols and imaginary princes and villains. As family relationships deteriorate, they are drawn into a peculiar emotional symbiosis, and the world turns violent.

And when they are about to be separated, because Juliet is being sent to live with a relative in South Africa and Pauline's mother refuses to let her go along, they decide their only recourse is to murder Pauline's mother. Luring her down a pathway in the park, they repeatedly strike her on the head with a brick inside a stocking. They make no attempt to cover up the act or even the incriminating, strangely jocular diary in which the plan for "moidering" Mother was laid out.

Perry tries to refute this version, She is especially upset at any suggestion of psychological deviance or lesbianism. "I find it grossly offensive," she said. "I was so innocent sexually then." Between sentences, she spits out the prosecutor's words with venom: "dirty-minded little girls!"

She insists that even as a child she knew "the difference between fantasy and reality." Aside from "normal childhood imagination," she did not construct elaborate games with clay figures, she says. And she goes so far as to assert that she was not really that close to Pauline. She simply felt a debt of obligation because Pauline had written letters to her when she was confined to a sanitarium.

The details are sketchy, she insists, and perhaps her behavior was affected by a medication she was taking for her lungs that she heard somewhere was later taken off the market because it "warps judgment." She feared that Pauline would die or commit suicide if she did not join in the plot.

"All I can actually remember feeling is: I don't want to do this. How can I get out of it, hysterically, how can I get out of it? I can't. Because if I don't do it, she's going to die and that's going to be even worse. I'm going to be responsible for a death one way or the other. And this one stood by me, that one I didn't even know.

"My father lost his job and my parents were going to be divorced and that all happened within a matter of days, and we were going to leave the country and Pauline was ill. I just knew she was throwing up after every meal."

Bulimia? "I'm not going to put a name to it. I just know that she was throwing up regularly after most meals, and I believed that if I did not do what I did she would take her own life. I'm not putting words in her mouth. All I will say is this is what I believed.

"I mean certainly we were good friends, but it was a debt of honor. It wasn't a great 'I can't live without you' business that these idiotic movie makers are making out of it."

Following her release from prison, she returned to England and eventually obtained a visa to the United States, where she worked as a saleswoman, a limousine dispatcher and a flight attendant. Twenty-six years ago, she converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is still an active Mormon.

Attempts to distinguish between right and wrong preoccupy her writing. A sense of persecution threads through her conversation, and expressions of remorse are not volunteered. But she said she accepted responsibility for her deed after a few months in prison and "worked through all that." She has not seen or heard from Pauline since the trial ended. "I wish her well," she said, "but I have nothing to say."

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

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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 British-born author has been touring to promote her newest novel featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, Traitors Gate and the paperback of the previous Pitt story, The Hyde Park Headsman.

But as she travels the country, she's also squarely facing questions about the storm of publicity that broke last fall when a reporter revealed Perry was imprisoned in New Zealand 40 years ago for helping a young girlfriend commit murder.

"I really never thought it would come out," says Perry, a tall and graceful 56-year-old. "I thought that after so long nobody would know or care about a couple of girls on the other side of the world. I was wrong. Now, I want to encourage others who fall flat on their faces to pick themselves up and never give up on themselves or anyone else. So often, young people who make a mistake are written off. There is redemption."

Perry's story, the inspiration for Peter Jackson's film Heavenly Creatures, has been in all the major U.S. media. Most of the stories have been sympathetic, but she's feeling bruised over what she describes as a mean-spirited article by John Darnton in the New York Times.

"It was an awful piece," she says. "The writer kept harping on the fact I can't remember the crime. Why would I want to remember? When you pay, you put it behind you. Repentance means living life as best you can. He wrote about how there were two Jaguars in my driveway. He didn't say we'd had a good laugh about the fact that those cars are 9 and 16 years old. He made it seem as though I'm living the high life, but out of this whole thing (publicity about the crime) I've only made 100 pounds (about $150). That was paid by a television station who photographed my house during an interview and I gave that money to a woman with young children who needs household help."

In Darnton's piece, Perry comes off as cold and unfeeling. She's not; she's pleasant, warm, interesting.

In the middle of a description of Victorian women's fashions, for instance, she stretches in her chair and says. "everything then was so elegant. I'd like to dress like that for a couple of days and come slowly down a winding staircase wearing a dress very slim down here (gesturing with both hands toward her hips), with a big, big hat."

Perry was born Juliet Hulme in London in 1938, the year Hitler began his assault on Europe. Her father was a physicist and college administrator, her mother a schoolteacher.

"My mother, who lives a mile from me, is a woman of immense courage," Perry says. "During the war she had breast surgery, my little brother was 6 months old and I was not well. With her arm in a sling, she had to say goodbye to my father, who was, traveling. We lived near an arsenal and we were bombed during most of the blitz. Almost every night we ran to the shelter in our back yard. I can still smell the damp earth and feel the cold."

When Perry was 8, she developed chest complications and the family moved to the friendlier climate of New Zealand.

It was during her confinement in a sanatorium for tuberculosis that Perry became good friends with schoolmate Pauline Parker. When the Perry's decided to leave the country, they offered to take Pauline with them, but Pauline's mother refused. So, the 15-year-old girls decided to kill the woman. Perry says she was under the influence of a drug, since withdrawn from the market, that impaired her judgment and that she remembers nothing about who hit the woman repeatedly with a brick. She refuses to see the movie, but is especially angry at the film's portrayal of a sexual relationship between her and Pauline, whom she hasn't seen since their sensational trial in 1954.

Perry served 5 1/2 years at New Zealand's maximum security prison, incarcerated with women who'd been convicted of everything from performing abortions and prostitution to theft, embezzling and crimes of violence.

She was 21 when she was released and she returned to her family in the Northumberland area of England. In some ways, she felt as though she'd had no childhood because she'd been ill from 13 to 15, and then in prison.

"It was hard to get used to living in the outside world and I was socially awkward," she recalls. "But I was pretty well read and I'd passed university entrance examinations in English, Latin, history and geography."

Taking her stepfather's name, Perry, she held a variety of jobs in retail selling, fashion and as an airline hostess. By 1967, she'd decided the United States held her future and got a job as a nanny.

She was in California when neighbors introduced her to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. With the Mormons, the young woman who was "basically raised agnostic" had found her spiritual home.

Free will and personal responsibility are themes that surface often in Perry's conversation and in her novels, and these are qualities that drew her to the Mormon faith.

"Most Christian churches teach that the fall from Eden—the fall from innocence—was a tragedy and we are seeking to get back to that state," she explains. "Mormons believe knowledge between good and evil is a necessity, that the purpose of life is not to get back to innocence but to progress until we know the difference between bitter and sweet and choose the sweet, the good, out of that knowledge."

She links her faith to her own past in a simple way: "Christ is the son of God and redeemer of this world. Because of the life He led, it is possible for us to repent and start over. I did that. I believe you have to understand why what you did was wrong, not do it or anything else like it again, and you have to forgive others."

When Perry left her nanny job, she took all her possessions on a bus to Bakersfield, Calif., where Mormons Edmund and Peggy Welles made her one of their family. She still considers their home her American base.

By 1972, Perry had returned to England, and it was a conversation with her stepfather that finally set her to writing mysteries.

"I'd been writing steadily, mostly historical novels with plots that were in shambles," she says with amusement. "That's why I succeeded with mysteries; they forced me to write a proper plot structure instead of getting sidetracked on research that interested me but didn't interest the reader. My stepfather had a theory about who Jack the Ripper was. I wasn't interested in that, but I was interested in what happens to people under intense pressure, how they discover all the things they'd rather not know about themselves and others."

Her exploration of how Victorians in a middle-class London neighborhood behave after a series of murders was the basis for her first Pitt mystery, The Cater Street Hangman, published in 1978.

Since then, she's written 15 mysteries about Police Inspector Pitt and his smart wife. Charlotte, which explore timeless topics such as spouse and child abuse, backstreet abortion, women's rights and incest.

Perry's other five books, set in the 1850s, center on private investigator William Monk and his friend Hester Latterley, a nurse who served in the Crimea.

Perry's Inspector Monk books, the first of which came out in 1990s, are darker than the Pitt stories because Monk suffers from amnesia and his condition allows Perry to explore responsibilities, especially when the person can't remember what happened. Although she doesn't say so, there seems little doubt Inspector Monk is not far removed from Anne Perry, who can't remember bricks descending on a woman's skull years ago.

Although it took Perry 10 books to earn enough money to support herself, she's recently signed a $1 million contract for eight books over three years, alternating Pitt and Monk stories.

She'll write those stories in her stone house, the shell of which was built in 1813, in the village of Portmahomack, Scotland. When she isn't working, she walks her three dogs and in the evenings "I like to put my feet up and knit while I watch TV."

She says her family, and the people in the village, have been wonderfully supportive since the news of her imprisonment came out. When a couple reporters went door to door "trying to dig up dirt" about her, nobody would speak to them.

Perry's labor-of-love is her forthcoming fantasy, centered on a woman in an alternative world who goes on a long and powerful spiritual journey to discover "every human being is a child of God."

Is this Anne Perry's soul story?

"It's a spiritual biography," she replies, a smile lighting her face. "It's the closest I get to writing from the heart."

Barbara Wickens (essay date 27 March 1995)

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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, Calif., to a series of clerical positions in her native Britain. "It was just six years ago that I made enough money from my writing to finally pay income tax," she said while in Toronto earlier this month to promote her 20th murder mystery, Traitors Gate. At last Perry, who now lives in the tiny Scottish Highlands village of Portmahomack overlooking the North Sea, has achieved the security that many writers only dream of: she recently signed a $1.4-million contract to write a further eight books in the next four years. But the tranquillity that came with her success evaporated last summer. In August, The Sunday News of Auckland, New Zealand, revealed that Perry was one of the two 15-year-old murderers portrayed in the current movie Heavenly Creatures. The film had revived interest in the 1954 slaying of Honora Parker by her daughter Pauline and Pauline's close friend, Perry. The two served 51/2 years in prison.

That revelation resulted in a maelstrom of publicity for Perry, 56, who until then had been best known for the historical accuracy and domestic detail of her murder mysteries set in Victorian London. The media scrutiny has come in waves coinciding with the release dates of the movie worldwide. And Perry's attempts to discredit the film, which she refuses to see, have contributed to her continuing notoriety. Her description of it as a grotesque and distorted portrait of her life prompted Miramax Films to place a recent advertisement in The New York Times promising to arrange a screening for her. "Please see the movie before you judge it or speak out against it," the ad read.

Despite suggestions by some commentators that such publicity is a great promotional tool for her books—more than three million are in print—Perry says it is not only unwanted but has been devastating for her emotionally. Since her release from prison in 1960, only her family, closest friends and members of the Mormon church, which she joined when she lived in California in the late 1960s, have known that she was the once-infamous Juliet Hulme. She left New Zealand, where her family had moved seeking relief for her various chest ailments, and took the surname of her stepfather, Bill Perry, who was originally from Winnipeg. Anne Perry says that her 83-year-old mother, who lives near her, "has suffered very much." She adds that people in Portmahomack have been remarkably supportive, as have employees at her North American publisher, Ballantine Books, who offered to release her from the current book-promotion tour. "I very nearly stayed home," she said, "but I've got to either stay in hiding for the rest of my life, or go through this and come out the other side."

Perry seems genuinely mystified by the frenzied fascination with her past. "I thought, 'After 40 years, who cares?' The Berlin Wall has come down, Communism has fallen, the whole world has changed since then." She is also bitter about some of the comments made about her, both then and now—particularly the notion that there was a sexual component to her relationship with Pauline Parker, Perry will not discuss details of the murder, saying only that she remembers little because she was on a medication for her lungs that has since been taken off the market because of its judgment-altering side-effects.

Her voice becomes even edgier when she notes that because she was a minor, she was not allowed to testify at the trial. Adding to her frustration is the fact that the prosecution's case (like the movie) was based largely on the diaries of Pauline, who had outlined her plans to kill her mother. "I don't know how you can use one person's diary as evidence of another person's behavior," Perry says, adding that such scribblings are wide open to misinterpretation. For instance, Pauline, whom she says she has not seen or spoken to since the trial, wrote about seeing "George in the night," says Perry. "I believe that in North America the equivalent is 'the john,' but the prosecution tried to make out that she had a lover."

Her greatest scorn, however, is reserved for those who say she shows no remorse. A proper, almost brusque, Englishwoman, she is indeed no meek penitent. But she insists that "the misrepresentation is pretty high—I always expressed remorse." For now, her goal is to get back into the daily rhythm of her life in Portmahomack, where she lives alone—she never married—in a converted stone barn. Perry, who writes in longhand, works six days a week. Traitors Gate is the 15th installment of the chronicles of police Supt. Thomas Pitt and his wife, Charlotte, who uses her highborn connections to help her husband solve cases. Perry has also written five books featuring William Monk, a detective in 1850s London. Under the terms of her new contract she will produce one book a year in each mystery series. She will also finally get to publish some of her historical fiction, including a novel set during the French Revolution. It is one of the books publishers have rejected; Perry is now on her fifth rewrite. But now that her past has been widely publicized, it will be especially difficult for her readers to think about Perry without also thinking about murder.

Emily Melton (review date August 1995)

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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 husband, Angus, whom she fears has been killed by his twin brother, Caleb. Angus, a respected businessman, loyal husband and father, and pillar of the community, has disappeared after a visit to Caleb, who's as different from Angus as it's possible to be; he's a violent thief, ruffian, and blackguard who lives in one of London's most dangerous slums. Genevieve's fears that Angus is dead at Caleb's hand seem well founded; all Monk has to do is find the means, the motive, the opportunity—and the body. But the more he investigates, the more bizarre twists and frustrating dead ends he encounters, until his persistence finally breaks the case wide open in a stunning climax that surprises even the unflappable Monk. This one deserves high marks for superb plotting, fine writing, intriguing characters, and outstanding historical detail. Buy multiple copies.

Publishers Weekly (review date 22 January 1996)

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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 Jack the Ripper murders, the Home Office anxiously anticipates the speedy arrest of the person who has murdered a Whitechapel prostitute with her own stocking. Finlay FitzJames, a young diplomat who is the son of a powerful merchant banker, is the prime suspect, even though the evidence against him is circumstantial: an old Hellfire Club badge, inscribed with Finlay's name, was found under the prostitute in bed, and cufflinks with his initials were discovered in the room. While Pitt grapples with this politically sensitive case, his sister-in-law. Emily Radley, makes friends with Finlay's younger sister, a social butterfly named Tallulah. Thanks to Pitt's diligence (and Emily's and Tallulah's meddling), the case is closed. Or so it seems until another very similar murder occurs. Whitechapel residents are terrified anew. Parliament is filled with grumblings, the Queen conveys her displeasure and newspaper reporters are turning the investigation into a case study in police incompetence and corruption. As Perry edges toward her surprise ending, she crafts her tale with elegance, narrative depth and gratifying scope.

Anthony Lejeune (review date 6 May 1996)

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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 in Victorian London, are—like those of Martha Grimes, an American mystery writer who has set nearly all her books in Britain—full of slight solecisms and anomalies liable to set sensitive English teeth on edge. They 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.

Miss Perry's books fall into two, scarcely distinguishable, series, both featuring police detectives who pursue their investigations through foggy streets to the clip-clop of hansom cabs, from the drawing rooms of Mayfair to the stews of Limehouse. In the latest, Cain His Brother, ex-Inspector Monk (now an "Agent of Inquiry," long before Sherlock Holmes claimed to be the only "consulting detective" in the world) searches for a missing man in the fever-ridden slums of the East End. His quarry, a saintly character, had an evil twin brother, who may have murdered him: but there is no body, and the villain is quite confident that none will be found. A trial ensues nevertheless, with a melodramatic denouement.

The mood is gloomy throughout, and, squalor being squalor, well-founded in sociologically inclined history books. So far, so plausible—until the narrative moves into the more socially complex regions of the Bar and the professional classes, where it suddenly becomes apparent that the author does not know what she's talking about. London barristers don't have "offices" in a street near Lincoln's Inn Fields: they had, and have, chambers in one of the Inns of Court. They don't "approach the witness stand" like Perry Mason. Nor are English clergymen called "Reverend Wyndham"—or, at least, they weren't before Hollywood's influence.

In all Miss Perry's books, modern prejudices, particularly about class and the position of women, are constantly insinuated and heavily emphasized. Victorians, however radical, simply didn't think in those terms. Gentlemen, she tells us, "only dabbled, they did not actually work"; which would have astonished some very energetic Victorian gentlemen. As for women, they were "the weaker vessel, expected to weep, to lean on others"; which would have amazed many tough-minded Victorian ladies. On the other hand, no respectable Victorian man would ever have said "what the hell" in the presence of a lady. Still less would a respectable woman have used such language herself ("bloody incompetent generals").

The most recent book in Miss Perry's other series, Traitors Gate (why no apostrophe?), set in higher social circles, was even more liable to such solecisms. In it Superintendent Pitt, aided by his wife, Charlotte, investigates a murder in a gentlemen's club. The crime involves Important People: it touches on the colonial struggle for Africa and a sinister anti-democratic conspiracy, the Inner Circle.

Miss Perry has conscientiously studied the background details. She knows London's street plan, what songs were sung in the music halls, what fashions the ladies wore: and she makes sure we know she knows. The effect is spoiled by things in some ways less obscure but perhaps not quite so readily swotted up. The club she writes about, crucial to the story, has a "manager" and "stewards," like an American club, not a "secretary" and "waiters"; it has a "foyer" and a quite impossible inner room for senior members only. The club's domestic arrangements are important because they affect the solution, described as "very clever and very efficient" but in fact absurd.

Even that sort of thing might not matter if the Victorian feel were right. There are some other curious Americanisms—"As close to Westminster as we live" (no Englishman, now or then, would insert the first "as"), "French doors" instead of "French windows," and (admittedly not often) some hilariously dreadful dialogue—"Must be damned urgent to seek a fellow out at his club, what?" When a high flyer at the Colonial Office is described as academically outstanding because he graduated from Cambridge at age 23, one can only ask what took him so long. Again we have the word "bloody" used in the presence of, indeed addressed to, a lady.

Has Miss Perry never seen Pygmalion? Has she never read Victorian novels—Trollope, Wilkie Collins, The Dolly Dialogues, The Four Feathers, or even the Sherlock Holmes stories? Or another, equally famous, Victorian tale which had better not be named for fear of giving away the twist at the end of Cain His Brother? The surprising answer is "Possibly not."

A glance at her biography, as given by the publishers, reveals that, although seemingly a conventional middle-class, middle-aged Englishwoman, she grew up in New Zealand, worked for a while in California, and now lives in a remote Scottish village. But that's not all.

While Traitors Gate was in preparation a movie called Heavenly Creatures was released, about a forty-year-old case, famous in New Zealand still, in which two young girls, for psychologically obscure reasons, battered to death the mother of one of them. A New Zealand reporter somehow got on the trail of Miss Perry. When asked, she immediately admitted that she had been one of those girls, though not the one whose mother was murdered. She had served five and a half years in a women's prison, was released at age 21, returned to England, where she had been born, and changed her name.

She claims to remember little of the murder and to have long ago lost touch with the other girl. She has never denied her identity but, naturally enough, doesn't like talking about it. She has become a devoted Christian. But she did miss out on a good deal of education.

The publicity that followed the revelation has been handled not so much discreetly as carefully, with well-controlled articles and interviews. Everybody on both sides of the Atlantic who is at all interested in her books now knows the facts. Despite her initial unsophisticated fear that her publishers might drop her if they knew, the story has predictably helped, not harmed, her sales.

All credit to her for making a new life and a successful career. However, I cannot help feeling, as she probably does, that it would be better, from a literary as well as a personal point of view, if we didn't know. People reading her books are now bound to ask: "Can you tell?"

The most spectacular parallel instance is that of James Morris, who underwent a highly publicized sex change while writing his (or her) trilogy about the British Empire. Nobody can read those excellent books now without trying to see the join, the point where the sex change happened. But there is no perceptible join. Nothing alters.

This provokes a much broader and deeper question about authors in general. Which is the real person—the one whose apparently intimate acquaintance we make on the page, or the frequently disappointing figure whose hand we may shake or whom we may see blathering on a television talk show? How do we feel about a woman protagonist, perhaps narrating in the first person, created by a male author—or the other way around? Would we feel differently were we unaware of the author's sex?

Are the currently fashionable courtroom thrillers distinctly better for being written by lawyers? Or romans policiers for being written by policemen? Erle Stanley Gardner was a lawyer and Dashiell Hammett had been a private eye, but they both learned more from working on Black Mask than from experience in the field. Carroll John Daly, the first begetter of the hard-boiled thriller genre, was rather a nervous man who once thought he should carry a pistol to see what it felt like—and was promptly arrested. Mystery fiction need not be realistic; realism is not the point.

The same applies to espionage fiction. Some writers of good spy stories did have experience in intelligence work, but you would never guess it from their unrealistic tales. Yet John le Carré's not very happy time in the British Secret Intelligence Service provided the pungency of his novels. And the Rumpole stories would be much less fun if John Mortimer were not so familiar with lawyers and judges.

So which is the rule and which are the exceptions? Truthfully, there is no rule. Trying to deduce one leads only into what le Carré calls "a wilderness of mirrors." Homer and Shakespeare are enhanced, not diminished, because we know so little about them. Anne Perry's work would lose nothing if we knew less about her.

Publishers Weekly (review date 2 September 1996)

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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 handle when Sir Oliver decides to defend Countess Zorah Rostova against a slander charge. The patriotic Zorah has accused Princess Gisela of Felzburg of murdering her husband, Prince Friedrich, heir to the throne, who presumably had died as a result of a fall from a horse. Gisela is suing. The issue of slander is almost lost in all the politicking. Gisela and Friedrich had lived in English exile, Gisela having played a sort of Wallis Simpson role to Friedrich's Edward. But Friedrich dreamed of returning triumphant to Felzburg in order to defend the statelet's independence against the unifying tide of Germany. Zorah's defense requires that Monk polish his image, refine his abrasive nature and interview some devious, scheming—and perhaps murderous—aristocrats. Was Friedrich poisoned? Was Gisela the intended target? Who profits? Are personal or political motives dominant? Perry indulges her characters in a bit too much unproductive speculation, but the novel springs to life in the courtroom scenes, where careful investigation and astute teamwork produce some astonishing revelations that presage the end of Victorian propriety and an era's pretense of innocence.

Marietta Dunn (review date 29 January 1997)

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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 imperious, brooding, sharp-tongued William Monk, an investigator who has lost his memory in a carriage accident.

Weighed in the Balance is the seventh of these William Monk mysteries.

Because of Monk's memory loss, each book is a double mystery—Monk and his allies seek to solve their cases, while Monk, through brief feelings and flashes from the past, painfully learns more about the person he was—and the person he has become.

In this latest novel, Monk must help barrister Oliver Rathbone discover the truth in a slander case. Zorah Rostova, a noblewoman from a Germanic principality, has accused a princess of murdering her prince while the exiled couple were on holiday in England. The princess, in turn, accuses the noblewoman of slander, leading to a trial. To clear Zorah Rostova, Rathbone and Monk must learn more about the political climate that has divided the principality.

In addition to Monk and Rathbone, the series focuses on Hester Latterly, a nurse who served in the Crimea with Florence Nightingale. Hester is all the things Monk dislikes in a woman—she is outspoken, independent, unbending. She rankles him; he rankles her. Neither Monk nor Rathbone can quite admit what they feel for Hester, who frequently puts herself at risk to help them with their cases.

Always in Perry's books there is an element of romance—a sweetness, however fleeting, amid the horror. This leads those who prefer the hard-boiled style of detective fiction to dismiss Perry's work as so much Victorian piffle. And yet—and yet—the social ills that she bluntly chronicles in her books were very much realities of Victorian times—child abuse, suicide, anti-Semitism, financial and political double-dealing, class prejudice and abject poverty.

On the surface, civility reigns among the upper classes, who adhere to a code of proper social behavior. But Perry strips away the veneer to show the ravages of the age.

Perry is a compelling writer, a wonderful scene-setter, presenting detail after detail that evokes life in Victorian England.

Is Weighed in the Balance her best William Monk novel? The answer is no. It's the second book in the series, A Dangerous Mourning, that really stays in the mind. In fact, Perry's 16 novels in the Thomas Pitt series are, on the whole, more satisfying reads.

Still, there is something about William Monk that keeps the reader coming back. Perhaps it is the mystery of his past; perhaps it is the uncertainty of his feelings for Hester Latterly.

All in all, it is the richness, the urgency, the almost-overripeness of Perry's writing—and her ability to build tension, even when the plot is a bit thin—that impels the reader to go on.

Rich Gotshall (review date 27 April 1997)

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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 alone, both in terms of background and character.

First-time readers are apt to fall in love with the Pitt's and seek out Pentecost Alley, Traitor's Gate, The Hyde Park Headsman and the other novels. And readers of those works will enjoy this installment every bit as much.

Representatives from England and Ireland are meeting in Ashworth Hall, a country estate, to find a way to resolve "the Irish problem," as the British government calls it. Their purpose is to forge a peace between the nations, who have been fighting over religion for three decades.

Superintendent Pitt is assigned to security detail for the gathering, since Ashworth belongs to his sister-in-law, but without revealing his role to either side. Despite Pitt's best intentions, a prominent political figure is soon bashed over the head. Even better, the man was killed while taking a bath in what might as well have been a locked room.

Was it a jealous lover? Irish rebels? Members of a British faction who don't want peace? The only sure thing is that the killer is somewhere in Ashworth Hall.

Who dunnit?

Then a dynamite bomb blows up a desk and another of the negotiators with it. Now it clearly appears someone wants the talks derailed, but is it an Irishman or an Englishman?

There is a bit of levity in scenes involving Gracie, the Pitts' ward, who travels to Ashworth as Charlotte's maid, and Tellman, Thomas' police assistant, who must masquerade as a valet.

Tellman has no idea what to do, and the teen-age Gracie tutors him so he won't embarrass the master and mistress.

The novel has a leisurely pace, as befits a Victorian mystery, but it's by no means plodding.

Readers are likely to be struck by the parallels with the strife in Northern Ireland, showing how little things have changed over the course of a century.

Linda DuVal (essay date 30 April 1997)

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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 has said in interviews that she can't remember the extent of her involvement, and the fact is, she has led an exemplary life since.

But it's a tantalizing clue for readers who marvel at how Perry is able to create such realistic situations and characters in her novels. Her characters are taken, bit by bit, from herself and from people she has known. And she must deal with many people in the course of her daily life, whether it's the workmen who are helping remodel her home in Scotland or the hordes of fans who flock to her book signings.

"I like something about almost everyone," she said during a recent stop in Colorado Springs.

Perry, 58, is the prolific author of two dozen Victorian-era mysteries. She writes two series—one featuring a husband-wife team of policeman Thomas Pitt and his well-born wife, Charlotte: the other centered around a darker character, Inspector William Monk.

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.

"I think a mystery can be anything you want it to be—a light romp or a serious exploration of issues," Perry says. "I choose the latter." Her books have dealt with rape, child labor, incest, usury, political corruption, censorship, treatment of the disabled and insane, and many more issues that plagued society 100 years ago—and still do.

"I often get my ideas from current events," she says. "We haven't solved most of those problems yet, have we? It would be lovely to think we've gotten past racial bigotry, child abuse and such."

When she takes on those issues in the Victorian setting—a much more secretive time—they become "that much more shocking," she says. "In many ways, it makes it a much better mystery, a better story, set in those times. Today, everyone seems compelled to talk about their darkest secrets on the television.

In her latest novel, Ashworth Hall, Perry deals with the question of home rule for Ireland. The story is so balanced it's difficult to tell where Perry's personal allegiance lies. What's obvious is that she can see both sides of the question and, ultimately, abhors the violence that the issue has bred.

Perry says she tries very hard to understand both sides of an issue. "If I think about it long enough, I can almost always see the other person's point of view," she says. "I have a hard time saying, 'this one's right and that one's wrong.' It's hardly ever that clear, is it?"

She also seldom paints a picture of a character as purely good or unremittingly evil.

"Do you know anyone who is? I don't."

She believes there is good in the worst of us, wicked tendencies in the best.

"We all have things we have to be forgiven for," she says with a wry smile. Perry could well be referring to the dark secret of her own past, which became public three years ago. As a teen-ager, Perry helped a friend murder her friend's mother. She served time for it, missing much of her later formal education because of it.

But what she missed in school, she made up by reading on her own. She loves the writings of G. K. Chesterton, and poetry from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

"I like the discipline, the form and formality of that poetry," she says. "A perfect sonnet is such a gem."

To ensure her own writing meets her standards, Perry often reads what she has written aloud. "It's my ambition to say something in exactly the right words," she says.

Perry, sporting a short, easy-care haircut, is impeccably dressed in a natty navy wool pants suit with cream trim. It fits her trim, 5-foot-7 frame well. She bought it in New York, and says she loves to shop for clothes in America.

"I wear a size 10, right off the rack," she says. "It's wonderful. At home, I have to have everything altered."

She also enjoys the fan base she has built in the United States and meeting her readers on book-signing tours.

"I like people," she says.

"One of the best training grounds for me has been the church," she says. A longtime member of the Mormon Church, she has been very active in it. "You see the same people week after week and you get to know them pretty well."

As Relief Society president for the church, for example, she had to go into homes of church members who were having a difficult time.

"I was responsible for the temporal welfare of other women in the church. I had to bridge the differences in lifestyle and background, and be nonjudgmental, to deal with people on a meaningful level," she says. "It gave me a much wider insight into other people's lives. It enhanced my own spiritual life and made me not only a better person, but a better writer, I think."

Her compassion for others shows in her books. In Weighed in the Balance, for example, she reintroduces a young woman from a previous Inspector Monk novel. The young lady was physically damaged by her father in an incestuous relationship, is in constant pain and can never bear children. In this book, she meets a young man who has become a paraplegic as the result of an illness, and a romance blooms.

It's as if Perry couldn't abandon the character after the first book. She had to resolve her situation and give her some happiness.

"It's true, there's a bit of me in each character, and when I write about them, I become them for a short time," she says.

Her characters are complex, intriguing people. Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, for example, come from very different walks of life. "I created them so that I could have permanent characters to give me the masculine and feminine points of view, and the upstairs-downstairs points of view," she says.

It gives her a much broader spectrum from which to explore each mystery, she adds.

"Women notice little things that men don't, and tell things to each other they'd never tell a man," she says. "Men see things women don't, too. This way, it's a much more complete story."

With her Inspector Monk character, she added an unusual twist. Monk lost his memory in a carriage accident, so he's constantly trying to unravel the mystery of his own past as well as the current murder he's working on.

"I wanted someone who would have to explore themselves as someone else saw them," she says. "If you judged yourself as harshly as you judge others, you'd be horrified. Eventually, he'll bring that compassion (he gains in judging himself) to others."

Hester Latterly, a friend of Monk's, is a nurse who served in the Crimean War.

"Hester is what I might have been if I'd lived then—if I'd had the courage," Perry says with a laugh.

Her characters have flaws. They're real. They make mistakes. "We don't do things without a reason," Perry says. "When we do them, it seems like the rational thing to do at the time."

Though she knows it's risky, Perry would like to try her hand at something other than British mysteries. She's currently working on a book that defies categorization, "a fantasy of sorts, a woman's journey of self-discovery. It has a religious, ethical tone—I don't know, I hope it does well."

She also wants to write a mystery set during the French Revolution. But she won't abandon her thoughtful characterization and her examination of moral issues.

Sensing a sympathetic ear, readers tend to tell Perry about their personal travails.

"About the best thing that ever happens to me is when people tell me they were going through a tough time—a bereavement, or an illness—and reading my books helped get them through it," she says.

"I'm always amazed at people's strength. There's a spark of something in us. People have an amazing amount of courage, sometimes."

"It's true, there's a bit of me in each character, and when I write about them, I become them for a short time."

Jane Dickinson (review date 19 October 1997)

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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 less turgid, also suffers from major flaws that only Perry's biggest fans will be willing to overlook.

When the bodies of respected solicitor Leighton Duff and his barely breathing son Rhys are discovered, kicked and beaten, in a slum street, mystery surrounds not only the assaults but why the duo were in Water Lane in the first place. Police detective John Evan does his best to trace their trail, but it's not until William Monk, no longer on the force but working privately, looks into the murders of several prostitutes that the story takes shape.

Meanwhile, the compellingly dark Monk pursues his personal demons, piecing together the life he lost when an accident wiped out his memory.

Despite some forceful characters, the novel demands disbelief when the conscientious inquiries of Evan turn up few clues, while Monk cracks the case by following much the same path and methods. Perry stretches the reader's patience again in casting the villains in the piece. She never convinces us they're nasty enough or wily enough for the double life they've supposedly been leading. Finally, the ending is at least partially obvious as early as the second chapter.

One reviewer has accused Perry of exploiting the past. Perhaps the inherent problem faced by a writer attempting to mine Victorian England is that Dickens already did it, and very well indeed….

Margo Kaufman (review date 23 November 1997)

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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 beside him, barely alive, is his brutally beaten son, Rhys. The pair are discovered by John Evan, Monk's only friend on the police force. Were they attacked by local ruffians while out for an evening's whoring? Is the widow involved? While Evan struggles to come up with a motive, he arranges for Hester to care for the wounded Rhys.

Coincidentally, Monk is engaged by Vida Hopgood, the wife of an East End sweatshop owner, to investigate the brutal rapes and beatings of local prostitutes. It's no surprise that Monk discovers a connection between the crimes, but longtime followers will be pleased that he also gains insight into his feud with his former supervisor Runcorn. The action careers between the low-and high-born in Victorian society. The denouement is shocking, and the characters are so richly drawn that you'll miss them when they're gone….

Alex Auswaks (review date 16 January 1998)

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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 is murdered and the circumstances are in every particular the same as the first. Again everything points to Finlay FitzJames. Riots break out. There is the threat of the breakdown of public order. Have the coppers framed an innocent man for a rich man's son to get away with murder? This time the FitzJames family cooperates.

Then a third….

The book is full of the language and thoughts of prostitutes: "Some geezers get high on garters. Guess fancy ladies don't wear 'em. All whalebone stays and cotton drawers…. Some toffs like ter laugh, Makes 'em feel less like they're in the gutter. Feel like it's a real woman. Them as can't laugh wiv their la-di-da wives."

There is much witty conversation, the subtle put-downs by the upper classes. Interesting questions are raised. What does a playboy do if he marries a rich widow, falls in love with her and wishes to impress her? What do you do if your brother is suspected of murder? What if you are a policeman and your wife has been conducting her own investigation so as to endanger yours?

An entertaining historical piece drawing on the fears of Londoners in the aftermath of the Ripper murders. And a very convincing Whitechapel in 1890….

Lori A. Curnin (review date 26 April 1998)

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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 Bellwood, an employee in the home of the Rev. Ramsay Parmenter. At first it seems clear cut; Miss Bellwood was heard to cry out "No, no, Reverend" before she was found at the foot of the stairs, But no one really believes such a respected man would kill anyone, even if the person hired to help him in his research of ancient languages taunted him with her atheist beliefs.

Thomas Pitt and his wife, Charlotte, are like old friends to fans of Perry's work and her descriptive writing fleshes out each character, so they are more than black ink on white paper. She also throws in a healthy dose of editorializing the meaning of love and justice through the words of her characters. The mystery itself could be wrapped up in a two-hour television movie; but by allowing the characters voices we want to hear, Perry gives the reader a book in which to become immersed.

Margo Kaufman (review date 4 October 1998)

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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 inconceivable that a man could face financial, professional and social ruin for changing his mind about a betrothal, but, as Perry explains it, in a society where appearance is everything, if a man breaks off an engagement to marry (or seems to), people will raise questions as to the lady's morals….

When Melville refuses to give Rathbone a reason for his actions, Rathbone appeals to his partners in crime: detective Monk and feisty private-duty nurse Hester Latterly, who is loved by both men. Unfortunately, before they can ferret out the truth, the trial comes to a premature and tragic halt. But not to worry. No one weaves plot and subplots as seamlessly as Perry, and even a closed case has a funny way of refusing to go away.

Refreshingly, the surly and distant Monk appears to have had a personality transplant since the last book, though Hester, ministering to a soldier who was disfigured in the Indian Massacre, is strangely subdued. Though I would have liked to have seen a final confrontation with the villain, most fans will be delighted by the long-awaited romantic denouement, which brought tears to my eyes….


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