In So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder that Shocked the World, Peter Graham looks back 50 years at a crime that appalled New Zealand and the world. Ross Graham’s endeavour was to objectively examine what is known to have happened in the lives of two teenaged girls that led them to ruthlessly kill one of their own mothers. His 30 years experience as a barrister and friendships with some of the 1954 legal teams inform this book. The result is harrowing.
Given the nature of the events of that infamous day in 1954, this is a chilling account. Both families appear to be typical New Zealand families. The Hulmes are English immigrants and part of the best society in Christchurch. The Riepers are working class and struggling with difficult family circumstances including a disabled daughter. The question of nurture versus nature underlies much of Peter’s examination. Both sets of parents were removed emotionally from their daughter’s lives.
The facts of the case are widely known. On the afternoon of June 22, 1954, Juliet Hulme met her friend Pauline Rieper at the Rieper home. After serving the family lunch Pauline’s mother Honorah joined the girls for a bus ride in to the hills for an afternoon tea and then a walk in a lonely park. This is where the apparently pre-planned, supposed “accidental death” occurred. From today’s perspective their disregard for consequences seems typical of the teenage mind. They appear to have no concept of the value of human life or the serious repercussions of the law.
Of major public interest at the time of the trial and in the years since has been the relationship between the two girls. Were they simply good friends? Were they close emotionally? Was there a physical lesbian aspect to their friendship? Did this make them even more evil? Are they straight or lesbian as adults? You will have your own opinion. Peter carefully leads us through the legal and psychiatric investigations. He takes a dispassionate view, but it is hard to not respond at an emotional level given the grisly details and the chilling disregard the girls have for the crime. He also looks into what has happened to the girls and the family members in the years since.
While I did go to Peter Jackson’s movie Heavenly Creatures and have read newspaper articles about the case, this has been my first opportunity to examine a complete picture of these horrid events. You will find Peter Graham’s account to be objective and engaging. This is a great read, although it may disturb your sleep. | Andrew Rumbles