A New Zealand lawyer revisits the highly publicized, mysterious case of matricide in his country in 1954.
Graham (Vile Crimes: The Timaru Poisonings, 2007) makes the old seem fresh as he tries to explain why teenagers Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme murdered Parker's mother during a walk in a nature area. The murder, sensational on its own, gained extra resonance later—once because of the Peter Jackson film about the case, Heavenly Creatures, and once after Hulme, released from prison, reinvented herself as best-selling novelist Anne Perry. Graham explores conundrums, such as the mental states of the teenagers at the time of the murder and afterward; whether the teenagers were starry-eyed lesbian lovers; and why each defendant served so little time given that they never expressed contrition. Turning his re-examination into a contemporary detective story, the author builds up drama about whether he will be able to locate Parker (who assumed a new identity) and Hulme. And if he can locate them, will they talk to him and reveal undisclosed details about the crime? Though Graham does not learn anything new from the perpetrators, he does gain insights from numerous other individuals who became enmeshed in the case. An epilogue informs readers about the fates of the major and minor players. Graham psychoanalyzes Parker and Hulme from afar but does so tastefully and insightfully. Matricide is a rare crime. As a result, it has not been written about much in the popular literature, a gap Graham fills admirably.
A worthy retrospective that feels chilling in the manner of novelist Perry.