7.11.1 "The Cater Street Hangman"



Perry, Anne. "The Cater Street Hangman," Fawcett Crest, N.Y. 1992. copyright 1979. orig. pub. St. Martin's Press, London. ISBN 0-449-20867-2.

"The Cater Street Hangman" is Anne Perry's first published novel. Her work is rich with social context and, especially, with realistic depictions of Victorian family life and personal life that are quite detailed. To convey such material convincingly, an author may draw upon personal experience or beliefs when writing critical passages, especially when writing a first published novel. So examining "The Cater Street Hangman" for insight into Anne Perry or even the "Parker Hulme" murder case is not unreasonable. After all, in 1979, Anne Perry's new identity had been intact for twenty-one years. When she wrote "Cater Street Hangman" she may have believed that her prior identity as Juliet Marion Hulme might never be revealed.

It is also possible that Ms Perry made a conscious effort to avoid possible tie-ins with the "Parker Hulme" case in her writing. Perhaps she drew upon personal experience sparingly. Although this possibility needs to be considered, Ms Perry's recent statements (see above) would not tend to support such deliberate obfuscation in her early work. Or even in her present work.

So, examining "The Cater Street Hangman" and Ms Perry's other writings for information about young Juliet Hulme or young Pauline Parker or Honora Parker or Henry Hulme or any of the other people listed in 7.1 remains very much an open and fascinating possibility. Ms Perry has stated publicly (see 3.2.4, 7.11) that some of her characters have been patterned after family members, and even herself.

Below is a brief quotation from "The Cater Street Hangman." The chosen passage is quite illustrative of Ms Perry's style in her earlier novels. "The Cater Street Hangman" introduces many characters who reappear in the "Pitt" series of books, so it is an invaluable starting point for anyone who wishes to take up reading Ms Perry's fiction. Starting with "The Cater Street Hangman" is highly recommended.

Ms Perry tends to write under the assumption that characters from previous novels will be familiar to readers of her later works. One of the fascinating aspects of her "Pitt" series, for instance, is the way recurring characters age, develop, mature and change as the series progresses.

Quotation from "The Cater Street Hangman" [SPOILER WARNING].

Charlotte Ellison is walking home along foggy Cater Street, site of five murders in recent months, including the murder of Charlotte's own sister Sarah. Inspector Pitt has been investigating the murders. Charlotte is returning from a courtesy call to Martha Prebble, the overworked and long-suffering Vicar's wife, bedridden with a fever. Perry describes her: "She was a handsome woman, broad-busted, strong, with fine, strong hands." [p. 19]. It is night. Charlotte imagines she hears footsteps behind her, perhaps the footsteps of the Cater Street Hangman...

[begin quotation p. 284]

The footsteps were right behind her. She would not be taken by surprise. She swung round to face him.

"He was there in front of her, her own height, no more, but broader, far broader. The gaslight shone on his head as he moved.

Don't be idiotic. It was Martha, only Martha Prebble.

"Martha!" she said in an ecstasy of relief. "What on earth are you doing out of bed? You are ill! Do you need help? Here, let me--"

But Martha's face was twisted into an unrecognizable distortion, her eyes blazing, her lips drawn back. She raised her powerful arms and the gaslight caught on the thin sliver of a cheese cutting wire in her hands.

Charlotte was paralyzed.

"You filth!" Martha said between her clenched teeth. There was saliva on her lips and she was shivering. "You creature of the devil! You tempted me with your white arms, and your flesh, but you shan't win! The Lord said, better you should not have been born than that you should have tempted and brought to destruction one of these, my little ones, and brought them to sin. Better you should have a millstone tied round your neck and put into the sea. I shall destroy you, however many times you keep coming, with your soft words and your touch of sin. I shall not fail! I know how your body burns, I know your secret lusts, but I shall destroy you all, till you leave me alone in peace. Satan shall never win!"

Charlotte only barely understood--some tortured haze of love and loneliness, of twisted hungers, suppressed for long years till they broke loose in violence that could no longer deny itself.

"Oh no! Martha." Her own fear was consumed in pity. "Oh, Martha, you misunderstood, you poor creature--"

But Martha had raised the wire, stretched taut between her hands, and was coming towards her, less than a yard away.

The spell was broken.

Charlotte screamed as loudly as her lungs would permit. She screamed Martha's name over and over and over again. She swung the basket at her, at her face, hoping to scare her, to blind her temporarily, even to knock her over.

It seemed like eternity, and Martha's hands were already on her arms, gripping her like steel, when the enormous figure of Pitt came out of the fog, and a second later, two constables. They grasped Martha, hauling her off, forcing her arms behind her back.

Charlotte collapsed against the street wall; her knees seemed to have no strength to support her and her hands were tingling with pins and needles.

Pitt bent down to her, taking her face in his hands very gently. "You blazing idiot!" he choked. "What in God's name were you doing going to see her alone? Do you realize if I hadn't gone to see you again today, and they had not told me where you'd come, you'd be lying on this very stone, dead like Sarah and all the others?"

She nodded and gulped, tears beginning to run down her face.


"You--you--" He was lost for a word fierce enough.

Before he could struggle any further there were more heavy feet on the pavement, and a moment later the vicar's solid form materialized out of the fog.

"What's going on?" he demanded. "What's happened? Who's hurt?"

Pitt turned to him, bitter dislike in his face. "No one is hurt, Mr. Prebble--in the way you mean. The injury is a lifelong one, I think."

"I don't know what you mean. Explain yourself! Martha! What on earth are those policemen doing with Martha? She should be at home in bed. She is ill. I found her missing; that's why I came out. You can let her go now. I shall take her home."

"No, Mr. Prebble, you won't. I'm afraid Mrs. Prebble is under arrest, and will remain with us."

"Under arrest!" The vicar's face twitched. "Are you insane? Martha could have done nothing wrong. She is a good woman. If she has been foolish--" His voice hardened a little in irritation, as if he has been trespassed against. "She is not well--"

Pitt stopped him. "No, Mr. Prebble, she is not. She is so ill, she has murdered and disfigured five women."

The vicar stared at him, his face working as he struggled between disbelief and rage. He swivelled to stare at Martha, sagging, eyes wild, saliva on her lips and chin, policemen holding her up. He swung back to Pitt.

"Possessed!" he said furiously. "Sin!" His voice rose. "Oh frailty, thy name is woman."

Pitt's face was frozen with his own anger. "Frail?" he demanded. "Because she cares, and you don't? Because she is capable of love, and you are not? Because she has weaknesses, hungers, and compassion, and you know none of these? Go away, Mr. Prebble, and pray, if you know how!"

The fog swirled in, and he was lost.

"I was sorry for her," Charlotte said softly. She sniffed. "I still am. I didn't even know women could feel like that--about other women. Please don't be angry with me?"

"Oh, Charlotte--I--" He gave up. "Stand up. You'll get cold sitting on the stone. It's wet." He pulled her to her feet, looked at the tears running down her face, then put his arms round her and held onto her as tightly as he could, not bothering to push the hair out of her eyes or to pick up the basket, just clinging to her.

"I know you're sorry for her," he whispered. "Dear God, so am I."

[FIN - end quote p. 287]