Parker murder revisited
You would think that nothing more could be written about the murder of Honorah Parker.
There have been three novels, a book-length study, three dramatisations, including a film, and accounts of the murder in at least six crime anthologies.
But Peter Graham disagreed, and So Brilliantly Clever is the result. At his Nelson Arts Festival Readers and Writers event next Saturday, the lawyer turned true-crime writer will talk about his enormously detailed work and some of the intricacies of the case it describes.
Honorah was murdered by her daughter, Pauline, 16, together with her friend, Juliet Hulme, 15, on a winter's day in Christchurch's isolated Victoria Park in 1954.
Almost 60 years later, Graham went to great lengths to unravel the mysteries of the fantasy world in which the pair lived in So Brilliantly Clever, which offers some of the reasons for the girls' thinking, as well as following the murder and its aftermath right up to the present day.
Graham first thought about writing the book in 1975, when he was a junior lawyer in Christchurch and the murder was still in the memories of many who had been shocked when it first happened.
One of those people was Christchurch lawyer Brian McClelland, who was Hulme's junior counsel during the High Court murder trial that followed Honorah Parker's death.
A young lawyer then himself, Graham was working as Mr McClelland's assistant and heard all the stories about the pair.
After 30 years working in Hong Kong as a barrister, Graham and his wife, Annabel, settled in rural Dunsandel, south of Christchurch, where he started to write books.
The first was Vile Crimes, the 19th-century Timaru story of Tom Hall Jr, a local businessman and nephew of former premier Sir John Hall, who in 1886 was accused of attempting to poison his wife, Kitty. Then, Hall was charged with another crime: the murder of his father-in-law.
Next came So Brilliantly Clever, for which Graham read works on abnormal psychology and 1950s New Zealand teenagehood, trawled through magazine and newspaper articles, conducted interviews and tracked down the official manuscript of the trial, as well as the personal papers of Justice Peter Mahon, who was at that time junior counsel for the prosecution in the murder case.
He also gained access to the papers and interviews of Michelanne Forster, author of the play Daughters of Heaven, one of the other writers drawn to examine the curious story of one of the most notorious murders New Zealand has ever known.