If you were a fan of Angela Lansbury's TV character, the one who wrote mystery novels in addition to solving a murder mystery each week on "Murder She Wrote," you've got a pretty good handle on Anne Perry.

Perry, now 60, a native of London, England, lived some of her youth in New Zealand, and now resides in an idyllic home converted from a sandstone barn, overlooking the sea in the tiny Scottish village of Portmahomack.Recently, during a visit to Salt Lake City to promote a new book, Perry sat down for a far-ranging interview with the Deseret News.

She has never married and lives alone, but many friends and family members live nearby, including her mother. Perry works six days a week churning out two popular mysteries a year, all of them set in Victorian London. There are now 30 of them -- seven million copies in print -- beginning with "The Cater Street Hangman," the story of a series of murders in 1881 London. (The book came to TV on the A&E cable channel last year, accompanied by mostly complimentary reviews.)

"Hangman" was the first in the Charlotte and Inspector Pitt series, which Perry alternates with one featuring William Monk, a detective who can only partially remember his own dark past. Through Monk, Perry raises "questions about responsibility, particularly for acts a person cannot remember." The Charlotte and Inspector Pitt series allows Perry to write about loyalty, devotion and love . . . a restrained sort of love.

The newest Pitt mystery is "Half Moon Street," published by Ballantine in April, about London's Bohemia, including studios where masters of light and shadow experiment with the new form of photography. The newest William Monk novel, due out in October, is "The Twisted Root," a chilling story of the search for the murderer of a coachman.

In the interest of accuracy, Perry employs a researcher to verify details, such as how long it took to travel from London to Nottingham, which station a traveler would approach and what the fare was in 1862. She may also ask him the latest sleeve fashion in May 1862, or how much guns weighed during the American Civil War. That frees Perry to concentrate on the creativity of her writing and to exercise a compelling curiosity about the criminal mind.

"If you wish your reader to be totally satisfied at the end of the book, " said Perry, "you must take the story as far as it can go. You must say everything that can be said and leave it when there is nothing else to add."

The internationally famous author has high hopes that several of her novels will be adapted to the big screen.

In 1967, while living in California, Perry was converted to the LDS Church. "I knew I was a Christian, but I couldn't be anything I'd come across. They all taught things that were good but other things I couldn't believe. I was left stranded until I came across the LDS Church, and I said, 'That's IT!

"At first, I gave the missionaries such a hard time, because there were some things I couldn't accept, but now I can't remember what they were. I really can't. The beautiful people I lived next door to said, 'Don't try to work it out in your brain. Surely, if it is true, and you ask your Heavenly Father, he will tell you. . . .' I got down on my knees before I went to bed, and I asked my Father in Heaven if it was true or not, and when I woke up in the morning, the room was absolutely filled with light -- and I don't mean sunlight."

Currently, Perry teaches the young women in her small LDS branch in the Scottish highlands, although her favorite church calling was as a gospel doctrine teacher in the Sunday School. "I taught the Old Testament, which I love with a passion."

Perry drives 23 miles to church on Sundays and wishes her branch had "one-hundredth of the depth of church membership" existing on the Wasatch Front. The LDS Church is a major part of her life. She even enjoys speaking in meetings on short notice. "The shortest notice I've ever had was when I was sitting on the front row, and the branch president said, 'The next speaker will be Sister Anne Perry.' I like that challenge. I don't have the gift to tell stories spontaneously, but if I can talk about what I believe, I love it."

Which brings her to her newest and most unusual book, "Tathea," a fantasy novel published under Deseret Book's national Shadow Mountain imprint. An epic that explores the meaning of life through one woman's quest, the story has been developing in Perry's mind for 40 years.

"Everything else I've done has been moving toward this," she explained. "The inspiration came from who I am. I believe very strongly that one of the most powerful ways to reach people who do not wish to open the scriptures and who are not actively searching for something is to tell them stories. You can move people by stories, whether they wish to be moved or not."

Perry says it is acceptable for someone to say, "Love thy neighbor," but it works much better to evaluate a parable like "The Good Samaritan."

"Tathea" centers on the title character, the empress of an ancient land, who is permitted to read the "minutes" taken during "The Council in Heaven," the grand dispute between the forces of good and evil that Mormons believe occurred at the inception of the world. When Tathea's husband and infant son are assassinated, she finds herself on a new journey.

Symbolism abounds. Finally, she uncovers a golden book written in an ancient tongue, and she translates it to a more contemporary language so others can appreciate it. Her quest for knowledge evolves into a mission to share the word of God. Perry is obviously clothing Mormonism in epic form in an effort to spiritually reach some of her millions of readers. Ballantine, her regular American publisher, was not interested in this totally opposite approach to her normal mystery genre.

"When it was declined," says Perry, "I was under the misimpression that if it went to Shadow Mountain, the book would probably only be distributed to members, and I'm not trying to preach to the converted." But in talking to her friend, Elder Hugh Pinnock, of the LDS Quorum of the Seventy, she learned that the Shadow Mountain imprint is national. He encouraged her to call Sheri Dew, an editor at Deseret Book and ask her to read the manuscript. Predictably, Dew was impressed.

"I didn't want to go to any editor who would alter it," said Perry. After conferring with Dew, Perry became convinced she could trust Deseret Book not to alter it. "They know the gospel as well as I do, or better." So Shadow Mountain has just published a first printing of 25,000 copies and is promoting it nationwide.

"This is my most important book," says Perry, "because my heart and my soul is in it. I try to put what I believe through everything I write, but it is usually subliminal. The values are there, but as human values, not as religious values."

Now that she has put her own religious beliefs between the covers of a substantial book that she hopes many of her regular readers will pick up, she is also working on a sequel, hopefully to be finished by October 2000. "It's 500 years later, and Tathea has been waiting for the book to be unsealed, and she finds a pregnant woman with a 13-year-old boy, and she believes the boy she is going to give birth to will be the person she's been waiting for -- the one worthy to open the book again. Then the woman is killed. It's a little while before she realizes it is the boy who must bring it up, and his mission is to lay peace on the island for a sufficient time to raise the warriors who will be righteous and strong enough to fight Armageddon."

And all the while she is working on the sequel, Perry will remain prodigious in producing her usual two mysteries a year. "It pays the rent, the taxman and my 10 employees, and I love working. I take a half-day off about once a fortnight."

So far she has no understanding of the dreaded writer's block. "Writing is great fun, and when you're lucky enough to have a publisher who takes you to meet your readers, that refuels you for another year."

Before Perry begins any book, she develops a detailed outline on full-size legal paper, one page per chapter. "If the planning is right, it falls into place. But I might find glitches. It's just a matter of working at it and rewriting.

"After the first draft is completed, I read aloud to my personal assistant so she can criticize it and say I've repeated myself. 'Do you realize you've got these people walking and talking for a half hour? What's the weather like? Why is there nobody else on the street? You've got this woman sitting at the dining room table, feeding her two children, and she's walked out and left them?' Or, 'You've walked in and taken your coat off and you walked out and left it there.' It's very easy to do that when you're concentrating on the plot."

But in Perry's opinion, the "worst sin" for an author is this: " 'They fell in love ' -- don't TELL me, SHOW me! Don't tell me it happened. I want to see it happen. It's like the song from 'My Fair Lady' -- don't TALK about love, SHOW me!"

Perry says her mother told her she was an "exhausting" child. "Once, when I was very young, and my mother had been telling me stories, she had fallen asleep and I was on the floor, and I had to climb to get onto the bed. I crawled over to my mother and opened her eyelid, and said, 'Are you still IN there? Well, what happened NEXT?' That's what it's about. The person you're telling it to must want to know, 'YES, AND . . .?' So I've always loved a story."

One reason for Perry's marked success as a writer may lie with a dark secret from her life, revealed only five years ago. As a 15-year-old girl living in New Zealand, she helped to kill her best friend's mother. She was convicted of the murder and served five years in prison.

In 1994, a journalist revealed Perry's original name to be Juliet Hulme. That same year, a New Zealand-made movie, "Heavenly Creatures," was released, telling the tragic story of Juliet and her best friend, Pauline, who become angry with their parents for trying to separate them. The film begins with the murder, as Pauline and Juliet take Pauline's mother for a stroll in the woods and then beat her to death with a brick in a stocking.

Kate Winslet starred as Juliet and Melanie Lynskey as Pauline. Toward the end of the movie, the girls agree, as part of their sentence, never to see each other again. After they were released from prison, both disappeared -- until the unsettling revelation that Juliet was in fact the mystery novelist, Anne Perry.

Although Perry is distressed that the story has come out, she does not deny it. She claims, however, that the film was inaccurate, even though she has never seen it. "I deliberately chose NOT to see it. Besides the fact that it would be terribly harrowing, it leaves me in the position where I can say 'I don't know.' . . . I don't think anyone would like to watch someone else's fantasy of what the worst time of their life was like."

Perry is sure that the nature of the relationship between the friends as depicted in the movie is "complete nonsense. But it's not something I want to go into. Apart from the fact that it is extremely painful, nobody's life is only their own, and if you start explaining yourself, you automatically start attributing qualities to other people who are not here to say, 'That is not how I felt or what I did.' That's not fair. I don't like it done to me. Besides, this was 45 years ago! Couldn't people have forgotten it by now? Nations can rise and fall in that length of time."

Is Perry willing to say that such a dramatic experience has had or is having an enormous influence on her writing?

"Probably, it is. Anything that happens to you is, if it's not mundane. Anything that is profound could deepen your life.

"I can't remember New Zealand very much, and I don't wish to. It's a very long time ago. I think nature allows you to forget the times that were most unhappy. Unless you want to wallow in it, and I don't. None of us have total recall of things we did years and years ago. If it is something you should allow to heal over and forget, then DO.

"I was 15 and ill at the time, and on medication, which apparently they discovered later on was quite mind-distorting. So it's not terribly surprising if I don't remember. I would like to remember the lessons to be learned from it, but not detail by detail."