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Harriet Said is Widely Considered One of The Most Disturbing Horror Books of All Time

This horror classic by Beryl Bainbridge is based on the true story behind crime author Anne Perry.

harriet said... / anne perry featured photo
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  • "Harriet Said..." book cover alongside one of its inspirations, Anne PerryPhoto Credit: Alchetron

In Harriet Said, two mischievous young friends decide to entertain themselves by "humbling" a local middle-aged man named Peter  Biggs. They spy on him and his wife, manipulate him, and finally trap him in a humiliating and incriminating situation. To the girls, this was all part of summer “fun;” a plan to have the most wild summer yet. What becomes clear is that these two girls have sinister plans…and more power than anyone realizes. 

This controversial, deeply unsettling book was penned by award-winning British author, Dame Beryl Bainbridge. While the book was completed by 1958, editors were so appalled by the disturbing content that Harried Said wasn’t published until 1972. Now considered a horror classic, this book is not for the faint of heart. 

As for Bainbridge’s inspiration for the book, it is loosely based on New Zealand’s Parker–Hulme murder case of 1954, in which two friends—Pauline Yvonne Parker and Juliet Hulme—decided to murder Parker’s mother in order to avoid being separated by a move. Parker and Hulme were each sentenced to five years in prison. Upon their release, the two girls were given new identities and told to never contact each other again. But their story—particularly Juliet Hulme’s—does not end there.

While in prison, Hulme felt deeply remorseful for her crime and turned to religion to beg for forgiveness. After completing her sentence, she changed her name to Anne Perry and moved on to live a quiet life in a small Scottish town. For 30 years, Perry lived in normalcy—even finally achieving her girlhood dreams of becoming a famous novelist.

She published her first book in 1974 and went on to write several novels which sold millions of copies worldwide. Perry was the proud recipient of multiple literary awards, including two Edgar awards and two Agatha awards, and was named one of the 20th Century’s “Masters of Crime” by The Times

It wasn’t until the release of Heavenly Creatures in 1994—a movie starring Kate Winslet based on the Parker–Hulme murder trial—that Perry’s true identity became known. While Perry feared intense repercussions in her personal life, she was pleased to share with The Guardian in a 2003 interview that every single friend stood by her side. And so Hulme continued to live her life as Anne Perry, devoted to religion, accepted by society, and a highly successful author until she passed in April of 2023

Continue reading to discover an excerpt from Harriet Said, the bone-chilling horror book based on the events of Hulme/Perry’s early teenage years. 




Harriet Said

By Beryl Bainbridge


Harriet said: ‘No you don’t, you keep walking.’ I wanted to turn round and look back at the dark house but she tugged at my arm fiercely. We walked over the field hand in hand as if we were little girls.

I didn’t know what the time was, how late we might be. I only knew that this once it didn’t really matter. Before we reached the road Harriet stopped. I could feel her breath on my face, and over her shoulder I could see the street lamps shining and the little houses all sleeping. She brought her hand up and I thought she was going to hit me but she only touched my cheek with her fingers. She said, ‘Don’t cry now.’

‘I don’t want to cry now.’

‘Wait till we get home.’

The word home made my heart feel painful, it was so lost a place. I said, ‘Dad will have got my train ticket back to school when I get in. It will be on the hall table.’

‘Or behind the clock,’ said Harriet.

‘He only buys a single. I suppose it’s cheaper.’

'And you might lose the other half.’

‘Yes,’ I said.

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  • Beryl Bainbridge, author of Harriet Said

    Photo Credit: Alchetron

We stood for a moment looking at each other and I wondered if she might kiss me. She never had, not in all the years I had loved her. She said, ‘Trust me, I do know what’s best. It was all his fault. We are not to blame.

‘I do trust you.’

‘Right. No sense standing here. When I say run, you start to run. When I say scream, you scream. Don’t stop running, just you keep going.’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’ll do that, if that’s what’s best.’

‘Run,’ said Harriet.

So we ran over the last stretch of field and Harriet didn’t tell me to scream, at least I didn’t hear her, because she was really screaming, terrible long drawn out sounds that pierced the darkness, running far ahead of me, tumbling on to the road and under the first street lamp, her two plaits flying outwards and catching the light. I hadn’t any breath to scream with her. I was just wanting to catch up with her and tell her not to make that noise. Somebody came out of a house as I went past and called to me but I did not dare stop. If I couldn’t scream for her then I could run for her. A dog was barking. Then we were round the bend of the lane and there were lights coming on in the houses and my mother on the porch of our house with her fist to her mouth. Then I could scream. Over her head the wire basket hung, full of blue flowers, not showing any colour in the night.

juliet hulme and paulina parker
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  • Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker

    Photo Credit: Alchetron

I did notice, even in the circumstances, how oddly people behaved. My mother kept us all in the kitchen, even Harriet’s parents when they arrived, which was unlike her. Visitors only ever saw the front room. And Harriet’s father hadn’t got a collar to his striped shirt, only a little white stud. Harriet could not speak. Her mother held her in her arms and she was trembling. I had to tell them what had happened. Then Harriet suddenly found her voice and shouted very loudly, ‘I’m frightened,’ and she was. I looked at her face all streaked with tears and I thought, poor little Harriet, you’re frightened. My father and her father went into the other room to phone the police. My mother kept asking me if I was sure, was I sure it was Mr Biggs.

Of course I was sure. After all I had known him for years.

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