I freely admit that I first read an Anne Perry book after learning of her involvement in a sensational New Zealand murder case. But before you judge me too harshly, consider a summer in the Mojave desert. There is nothing to do because of the soul sucking heat that drives everyone who cannot get out of town into their swamp cooled or air-conditioned houses. Much like Alaskans, we hibernate for a good part of the year. Only for us it is summertime. Ed and I spent our days reading, mostly mysteries, and we were always on the lookout for new, to us, authors and series.
One Sunday we saw an interview of Anne Perry on 60 Minutes or Dateline (back before there was an internet) during which she discussed her murder conviction of 1954. I had never read a book written by a murderer before, and couldn’t resist the temptation to see if our local library stocked any of her work. They did and we read.
Before I get to the actual books, a few words about the notorious past of Anne Perry:
She was born Juliet Hulme, on October 28, 1938 in Blackheath, England. Daughter of a physicist, she spent most of her early life separated from her family in attempt to mitigate the impact of the climate on her poor health (tuberculosis). She was living with her father in New Zealand when she and her only friend murdered her friend’s mother, Honora Rieper, on June 22, 1954. She was 15 at the time and as a minor was not allowed to speak in her own defense which, according to interviews, bothers her still. The murder was a particularly violent one; the victim was struck on or about the head at least 45 times with a brick in a sock.
Anne Perry and her friend were convicted of murder on August 29th of the same year and sentenced to be detained at “Her Majesty’s pleasure,” which was an indeterminate sentence. Though she didn't know it at the time, she serve five and a half years including time at Mt Eden Prison, a notorious adult prison (she was the only minor) where convicted prisoners were still being hanged as late as 1957. Her first three months there were spent in solitary confinement in order to break her spirit before she was released into the general population. Upon her release she left New Zealand, taking her step-father’s surname, and after some years in America, Canada and England, she settled quietly in a Scottish village where she wrote her Victorian mystery novels.
Ian Rankin, a Scottish mystery writer, interviewed her about her past. A transcript can be found here.
Peter Jackson, of "Lord of the Rings" fame, made a movie about the murder, "Heavenly Creatures," casting a young Kate Winslet as Perry in 1994. The movie, made without her knowledge, outed Anne Perry as a convicted murderer. Hence the news interview that we watched one Sunday evening. She did not ever try to capitalize on her notorious past or profit from it, but tried very hard to live quietly with it remaining a secret from friends, neighbors, her agent and the public at large.
Although others disagree, I felt that she had served her time and had paid the debt that society demanded and so I would, over the years, buy her books of Thomas Pitt and William Monk. They were good books. And just a few weeks ago I used two of her Christmas novellas in a Monday Murder Mystery diary. It wasn’t murder that put me off her work, it was religion. Why is below the fold.
In accurately depicting the time, Perry made it come alive as she demonstrated the restrictions placed on young, and old, women. Newspapers were considered unfit for their eyes, and discussion of war, murder or sex was strictly prohibited. Class and society are exposed and examined in the series as it deals with prostitution, poverty, usury, politics and all of the other social ills of the era.
Her first Pitt mystery, The Cater Street Hangman, written in 1979, introduced us to Charlotte Ellison, the rather outspoken middle daughter of three. Inspector Pitt is the officer assigned to investigate the murder, by garrote, of Lily Mitchell, a maid in the Ellison household. She is the third young woman to be murdered in the same manner in the same neighborhood. The author sets up enough potential suspect to keep the reader guessing and fully engrossed in the tale.
But as the series went on, Perry introduced a conspiracy element into the novels that I found puzzling at first, and ultimately boring. I don’t have a problem with conspiracy novels and enjoyed novels like Robert Ludlum’s Ostermann Weekend. But I never felt that Perry made it believable and it seemed that the mysteries themselves suffered by the inclusion of the conspiracy plot.
Last month I included two novellas, A Christmas Guest and A Christmas Secret for the Christmas Eve diary. Anne Perry writes an engaging tale, and I still like most of her characters. But it reminded me that she had written a five book series on WWI that I had wanted to read ever since Downton Abbey awakened my interest in the first few decades of the twentieth century.
So, I should have known and stopped right there, but I soldiered on even though she used one of the literary devices that I hate the most, that of calling the bad guy the “Peacemaker” or any other made up name, like the Grey Mask. Good guys, bad guys, without any communication, they all seem to agree upon this name to call the unknown head of the conspiracy. I don’t know why some authors do this. It makes me crazy because I cannot imagine a world in which this would actually happen. It seems like a kind of lazy writing to label someone “Peacemaker” instead of crafting the plot in such a way that the name would not be needed. But that is a minor quibble.
In addition to the questionable deaths of his parents, Joseph Reavely also has to deal with the murder of his favorite student at Cambridge. That mystery investigation reveals the underlying sins of the student body and faculty of the University and is concurrent with and perhaps connected to the death of the Reavely parents.
Since that is not a question I find particularly troubling, I was not especially interested in how he works his way through it. But then it appeared that his sister would play a more visible role in this novel as a volunteer driver for the commanding general in Reavely’s area. But alas, Joseph’s internal torment was more than I could deal with and I gave up about a third of the way through.
While researching Ms Perry’s background for this diary I found an extensive interview that she did for a New Zealand television show that is also named 60 Minutes. Running about 45 minutes, the discussion spends some time on her childhood crime. I admit that I was kind of puzzled by how it was all about her and her journey to redemption, with not a single word about the victim. That seemed kind of, I don’t know, heartless maybe? But it was only towards the very end that I realized why I put down Shoulder the Sky. Anne Perry, a devout Mormon, wrote the five novel series to show how a man’s faith in God is tested and lost and how he regains it.
When I was a teenager I knowingly read The Robe, The Shoes of the Fisherman, Dear and Glorious Physician and a whole bunch of other novels that today would be considered “Christian Literature.” When I first got my kindle I inadvertently downloaded some free books that turned out to have heavy Christian themes (I now know what to look for) that made me feel tricked into buying them, even though they were free. But that sense of betrayal was nothing compared to how I felt when I realized that I was reading Christian literature instead of mystery. OTOH, it explained why I found so much of it tedious. The themes she wished to explore were of absolutely no interest to me.
That is not to say that they wouldn’t be of interest to others. If religious faith is your cup of tea you might enjoy this series. But if you are looking for a good mystery set in the Victoria era with a touch of romance, I would recommend The Cater Street Hangman instead.
Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule
|DAY||TIME (EST/EDT)||Series Name||Editor(s)|
|SUN||6:00 PM||Young Reader's Pavilion||The Book Bear|
|Sun||9:30 PM||SciFi/Fantasy Book Club||quarkstomper|
|Bi-Monthly Sun||Midnight||Reading Ramblings||don mikulecky|
|MON||8:00 PM||Monday Murder Mystery||Susan from 29|
|Mon||11:00 PM||My Favorite Books/Authors||edrie, MichiganChet|
|TUES||5:00 PM||Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left||bigjacbigjacbigjac|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||LGBT Literature||Texdude50, Dave in Northridge|
|Tue||8:00 PM||Contemporary Fiction Views||Brecht, bookgirl|
|Wed||8:00 PM||Bookflurries Bookchat||cfk|
|THU||8:00 PM||Write On!||SensibleShoes|
|Thu (first each month)||11:00 AM||Monthly Bookpost||AdmiralNaismith|
|Thu (third each month - on hiatus)||11:00 PM||Audiobooks Club||SoCaliana|
|FRI||8:00 AM||Books That Changed My Life||Diana in NoVa|
|SAT (fourth each month)||11:00 AM||Windy City Bookworm||Chitown Kev|
|Sat||4:00 PM||Daily Kos Political Book Club||Freshly Squeezed Cynic|
|Sat||9:00 PM||Books So Bad They're Good||Ellid|