When Art Imitates Life

Anne Perry is an accomplished mystery writer with more than forty novels to her name, including the Thomas Pitt series, the Daniel Pitt series, the William Monk series, and more. Many of her novels take place around World War I. 

She’s also a convicted murderer.

A friend from college – who is also a librarian – told me this while I was reading Death with a Double Edge, the fourth of her Daniel Pitt series. And thereby hangs a tale.

Perry (whose birth name was Juliet Hulme) was born in England but spent much of her childhood in the Bahamas, South Africa, and New Zealand. As a teen in New Zealand, she became fast friends with a girl named Pauline Parker. Their friendship was so tight it bordered on obsessive, with the girls creating rich fantasy worlds they pretended to live in, and throwing tantrums if they couldn’t be together.

When Perry was 15, her mother was caught in an affair, and her parents decided to divorce. Perry was going to be sent to South Africa to stay with relatives for a while. This sent the friends into a panic. They asked Pauline’s mother if Pauline could go with Anne/Juliet, and her mother said no. Pauline then, in the short-sighted way children have, decided to kill her mother, freeing Pauline to travel with Anne/Juliet. When Anne hesitated, Pauline threatened to kill herself if Anne didn’t help. Just three days later, while walking with Pauline’s mother, the girls beat her to death with a brick – a deed that took twenty savage blows.

Perry and Hulme were caught quickly. They were too young for the death penalty, and both wound up serving five years in prison. They didn’t speak to each other again. Perry eventually settled in the United Kingdom, where she lived a quiet, penitent life and took up writing mysteries that often had a theme of redemption. It wasn’t until 1994, when no one less than Peter Jackson made a movie about the crime (Heavenly Creatures), that a New Zealand journalist outed her as Juliet Hulme – three days before the release of the film. No one had spoken to her to get any actual facts about the crime, and the film remains highly fictionalized.

Is Perry the only author who has done hard time? Of course not. Mystery writer Dashiell Hammett did six months in jail for contempt of court. Nelson Algren, who wrote Man With the Golden Arm, spent five months in jail for stealing a typewriter. William S. Burroughs, author of The Naked Lunch, first spent time for forging a prescription, but later killed his common-law wife after a drunken argument while in Mexico. He escaped prosecution by fleeing back to the United States. Chester Himes was sent to jail for eight years at the age of 19 for armed robbery, where he began to write such novels as A Rage in Harlem and Cotton Comes to Harlem. In all cases, incarceration, even for a little while, made a huge impact on the writer and their view of the world.

Anne Perry’s latest book, Three Debts Paid, a fifth volume of the Daniel Pitt series, was released in April.

Devil in the White City

NOTE: This post deals with a difficult subject matter, serial killers, so if you’re easily disturbed, you might not want to read any further.

A book kept passing through my hands and it seemed intriguing – psychopath, history, award-winning – probably good, and I read it at last. The Devil in the White City  by Erik Larson tells the true story of the great Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, a celebration of Columbus’s 400th anniversary of discovering the new world and an attempt to outdo the 1887 Paris World’s Fair, which amazed the world with the new Eiffel Tower, the tallest structure in the world. The fair covered more than 600 acres – almost six times the size of Disney’s Magic Kingdom – and attracted more than 27 million visitors in its 6 month-run (versus 20 million visitors to Magic Kingdom in 2016). It also chose Tesla’s AC electric current to power it because it was cheaper than Edison’s DC current, cementing the road for America’s future electrical grid.

Chicago was no charming city, known for stink (stockyards), grime (trains and soot), crimes and vice. And in this mix lurked a serial killer, H.H. Holmes. Holmes’s background was a perfect mix of known factors of psychopathic development – strict, cold, abusive parents with severe religious obsession. By the age of 6, Holmes liked to dismember animals, and by his teens was implicated in the death of a young boy but cleared due to the pitiful state of investigations. He fled to Chicago, where he became a con artist, bilking insurance companies, furniture companies, and drug supply stores. He also charmed single ladies, killed them, reduced them to skeletons, and sold them as medical supplies. He built an elaborate hotel nicknamed “The Castle,” complete with gas jets in the rooms, soundproof rooms, and a personal crematorium in his basement. When finally cornered for killing his long-time assistant, Holmes confessed to 29 killings, though only 9 could be proven, but his total might have been as high as 200. He was hung for his crimes. Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights to the book, and a film is in production with Martin Scorsese as director (it had a tentative 2017 date, but is still in process).

Serial killers – those that kill large numbers of victims over time – are rare as far as murder goes, but the extent of their crimes garners a lot of press. Connecticut has its own serial killer in Amy Archer Gilligan of Windsor, who killed as many as 48 of her nursing-home patients for insurance claims between 1885 and 1917. Some of the more notorious American serial killers include:

Jeffery Dahmer (1991), who killed (and ate) at least 16 young men and boys. Not a high count for a serial killer,  it was the cannibalism that made him famous. He was beaten to death in prison not long after his conviction. Some things scare even murderers.

John Wayne Gacy (1978), who dressed as a clown for kids’ birthday parties and killed more than 33 men.  Stephen King said “It” was fiction.

Charles Cullen (2003), convicted of 40 murders while he was a nurse, but possibly responsible for up to 400, making him the most prolific not only in New Jersey, but the USA. Carl Watts (1982) was also a nurse, convicted of six murders but possibly as many as 130.

Ted Bundy (1975), one of the most famous and perhaps sickest, who killed more than 30. He decapitated at least 12 victims and kept the heads in his apartment, and often performed sex acts on rotting corpses (I warned you). He was executed in Florida.

Gary Ridgeway (2001)  the “Green River Killer”, with 49 proven deaths, 71 confessions, with a probable total closer to 90.

Ed Gein (1957)– Gein was convicted of only two murders, but if you’re looking at psychopaths, Gein is King. Gein had a bizarre attachment to his mother (back to that cold/abuse/super-religious thing), and would go to graves and dig up women’s bodies, skin them, and save parts attempting to wear his mother. Gein was the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic, incompetent, and died in a mental facility.

What predicts a serial killer? Most professionals look for early abuse, neglect, brutality, bullying, and mental illness. Animal cruelty, especially in young children, is a warning sign. Killers are often charismatic (Holmes, Bundy, Jim Jones, too) and manipulative, gaining friendship and trust.  Lack of empathy for their victims is  always present. Some do it for attention, especially media attention. One interesting point: 70% of serial killers had experienced significant head trauma as children; with what we now know about violence among football players and boxers who receive blows to the head, could this be a risk factor?

So hug your kids. Be patient. Be kind to them and to others, and teach them to be kind as well. Take bullying and animal cruelty seriously, and report it to authorities. You don’t know how many lives you might save.

It’s going to be a long winter……..start reading a series.

winterNow’s a good time to get involved in a gripping series to get you through those long winter days and nights.  Here’s a list of first titles in a series for a variety of Police Procedurals – Mystery, Thriller and Suspense.

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries) by Louise Penny – An engaging series hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces–and this series–with integrity and quiet courage.

Bruno, Chief of Police: A Novel of the French Countryside by Martin Walker – Meet Benoît Courrèges, aka Bruno, a policeman in a small village in the South of France.  He’s a former soldier who has embraced the pleasures and slow rhythms of country life. He has a gun but never wears it; he has the power to arrest but never uses it.

Naked in Death (In Death) by J.D. Robb – In a world of danger and deception, she walks the line–between seductive passion and scandalous murder.  This series follows the lives of Lt. Eve Dallas and her husband, businessman Roake in mid-21st century New York City.

Eva’s Eye: An Inspector Sejer Mystery by Karin Fossum – A Scandinavian crime fiction starring Inspector konrad Sejer, a shy, old-fashioned, polite dad who never stops thinking of his latest case.

Gallows View (Inspector Banks)by Peter Robinson – A critically acclaimed thriller that first introduced the world to Yorkshire, England Chief Inspector Alan Banks.

Sworn to Silence (Kate Burkholder Mystery)by Linda Castillo –  In a rural, sleepy town in Ohio, the Amish and English have lived peacefully until a series of brutal murders shatters the community.

White Sky, Black Ice (Nathan Active Mysteries)by Stan Jones – Nathan Active is an Inupiat Eskimo and Alaska State Tro0per who patrols the coldest beat in America.

Face of a Killer (Sydney Fitzpatrick Mystery) by Robin Burcell – Author Robin Burcell is currently a criminal investigator in California and was the first female police office hired in Sacramento – which makes this series about a female FBI Special Agent very believable.

The Cove (FBI Thriller) by Catherine Coulter – FBI Agents Dillon Savich and his wife, Lacey Sherlock tackle crime in San Francisco.

Lonely Hearts (A Charles Resnick Mystery)by John Harvey – Charles Resnick is a jazz-loving, melancholy cop in provincial Nottingham, England.

If You Liked “Gone Girl” …

As with many wildly popular books, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is going to be made into a movie.  Twentieth Century Fox has announced that the movie version of  this thriller is due out on October 3, 2014.  Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne with Rosamund Pike signed on to play his wife.  Neil Patrick  Harris, Tyler Perry, and Patrick Fugit are among the film’s co-stars.  Reese Witherspoon is producing the film.

If you’ve already read the book and are looking for something similar to read, The Silent Wife by A.S.A.Harrison is a highly touted recommendation.  What makes it special is the story behind the book.  It was written by an unknown Toronto writer who had never written a book before.  It was released in paperback format as opposed to the more splashier hardcover format.  And in a tragic twist, Ms. Harrison died of cancer at the age of 65 just before the book was published.

The book follows the bad marriage of Jodi and Todd.   They lead an affluent life in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago.  He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, their marriage is in the throes of dissolution, they’re headed for catastrophe, concessions can’t be made, and promises won’t be kept. Expertly plotted, this book ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

Other books you may also enjoy reading are:

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf.  When teenager Allison Glenn is sent to prison for a heinous crime, she leaves behind her reputation as Linden Falls’ golden girl forever. Her parents deny the existence of their once-perfect child. Her former friends exult her downfall. Her sister, Brynn, faces whispered rumors every day in the hallways of their small Iowa high school. It’s Brynn who carries the burden of what really happened that night, but all she wants is to forget Allison and the past that haunts her.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight –  Kate’s in the middle of the biggest meeting of her career when she gets the telephone call from Grace Hall, her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia has been suspended, effective immediately, and Kate must come get her daughter—now. But Kate’s stress over leaving work quickly turns to panic when she arrives at the school and finds it surrounded by police officers, fire trucks, and an ambulance. By then it’s already too late for Amelia. And for Kate.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes – A masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.

Linda Reads: Deadline by Sandra Brown

sandra

Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown is an award winning author of romance novels and suspense thrillers of which sixty have made it to the New York Times bestsellers list.

She is a lifelong Texan and attended Texas Christian University where she majored in English.  In 1968, she married her husband, Michael Brown, a former television news anchor.  Before starting her writing career in 1981, she worked as a model, did TV weather casting and was a feature reporter on “PM Magazine”.   Her episode on truTV’s “Murder by the Book” premiered the series in 2008 and she helped launch Investigation Discovery’s new series, “Hardcover Mysteries”.

Ms. Brown recently received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Texas Christian University.  She was name Thriller Master for 2008 – the top award given by the International Thriller Writer’s Association.  She also received the Romance Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Deadlineis a mystery/thriller/romance that is well-written with a lot of twists and turns that keeps you thoroughly entertained.

Dawson Scott is a well-respected journalist recently returned from Afghanistan. Haunted by everything he experienced, he’s privately suffering from battle fatigue which is a threat to every aspect of his life. But then he gets a call from a source within the FBI. A new development has come to light in a story that began 40 years ago. It could be the BIG story of Dawson’s career one in which he has a vested interest.

Soon, Dawson is covering the disappearance and presumed murder of former Marine Jeremy Wesson, the biological son of the pair of terrorists who remain on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. As Dawson delves into the story, he finds himself developing feelings for Wesson’s ex-wife, Amelia, and her two young sons. But when Amelia’s nanny turns up dead, the case takes a stunning new turn, with Dawson himself becoming a suspect. Haunted by his own demons, Dawson takes up the chase for the notorious outlaws. . .and the secret, startling truth about himself.

A stimulating multi-layered story with great characters, sharp dialogue and a few surprises thrown in!