So simply stated is the dedication of Anna Murdoch's first novel that it's almost a whisper, floating in solitude on Page 3: "For K.R.M." Nowhere else on the jacket is there any hint. "It was sort of my special gift to him, a surprise," she says. "He was so thrilled, he kissed me. You know, he really is a good and decent man . . . Yes, Rupert is my very best friend."

As first novels go, "In Her Own Image" (William Morrow and Co.) is a solid effort, a story about the complex relationship between a mother and two daughters, set in Australia's outback, where Anna Murdoch was raised.

Far more intriguing, though, is the story behind the author, a woman who married her boss in Australia 18 years ago, never fathoming that this small-town newspaper publisher would come to command one of the world's grandest media empires, his name synonymous with controversy, power and wealth.

Yet, for all of Keith Rupert Murdoch's notoriety and success, his family has been one of his best kept secrets.

He now controls newspapers or magazines in some of the more significant markets in the world -- New York, London, Chicago and Boston -- as well as television stations in three additional U.S. cities. Earlier this year, he moved decisively into Hollywood by first purchasing one-half of 20th Century-Fox, and now negotiating for the rest. These days there is also talk of his starting a fourth TV network. Forbes estimates his personal wealth at $300 million.

Still, considering the nature of his business, Anna and Rupert Murdoch are almost obsessed with privacy. "We have a very strong sense of ourselves," she says. "We don't need that sort of public recognition that some appear to look for . . . I don't want to be a partygoer. I don't want to be a shopper. I don't want to be going to charity things all the time."

Anna Murdoch last week offered a rare glimpse inside, from the low-key splendor of their Fifth Avenue triplex to her candid assessment of their values and the outside criticisms that sometimes envelop them. "We're not asking to be accepted or liked, or anything like that, because of what we have," she says. "You can take us or leave us. And we prefer if you leave us."

Beneath her high-neck silks and guileless demeanor, Murdoch, 41, appears at once to be tenacious and warm, an unapologetic homemaker who has been chief cook, bottle-washer and mother-protector to a husband and three teen-age children who adore her. And who, despite some initial balking from her husband, went back to get her college degree 10 years ago, deciding she needed to do something for herself.

Uncomfortable as she is with publicity, she pulls no punches about her reason for granting the interview: "Yes . . . it is difficult . . . but to sell the book, I am really quite cold about it." Eschewing the flash and socializing expected of New York's well-to-do, she prefers instead to escape to the Murdoch retreats in Aspen, Colo., London or Sydney. "That's not to say I don't like a pretty dress, but if that's what your life was all about, it would be awfully empty," she says.

Relates one acquaintance: "Once I saw Alfonse D'Amato kiss her hello, and she turned to me and said, 'That was awfully familiar of him, I hardly know him' . . . She's just not into the game."

Their home is understated elegance, a country feel of browns, beiges and peach tones, with mostly period furniture. There are 18th-century Chippendale bookcases from Rupert Murdoch's father, Sir Keith Murdoch, filled with 17th-century china; two brown velvet couches flanking a mantel; and a French baroque couch covered in green and peach silk. Fuchsia amaryllis blooms on the coffee table, a matching chintz floral print covers an antique chair. A terrace surrounds the penthouse offering a glorious view of Central Park, its reservoir and New York's skyline. The elevator opens into their apartment, its door tended by the butler, George.

"It's just like being in a house once you're inside," she says. "We like it."

Anna Murdoch herself seems the antithesis of the kind of boldness and exploitation often associated with her husband and some of the newspapers he owns, like the New York Post.

She has a reserved Brooks Brothers look, today dressed in a navy skirt with a white and navy striped silk blouse, buttoned to the neck. Her pumps are practical, low-heeled dark navy, with little tassels. She has a kind of fresh-faced beauty, framed by frosted hair falling in a soft pageboy.

The suggestion that she seems at odds with her husband's tabloid image of trading on sex and scandal does not sit well with her.

"We are good people . Anyone who knows Rupert personally knows what he's like," she says. "Rupert has many publications which no one ever talks about. The criticism usually starts off with the Sun in England, and that's one of a vast empire of things and one has to question why this constantly comes up.

"I think it's a tool used by people who are either envious or wish to destroy him. But it doesn't affect us as a family. We know what he is like. People who work with him know what he is like. Of course, he has enemies. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. But he is a very good and moral human being, and we are bringing up our children that way. We know what we are about, and time is on our side. There will be a great reversal. It's around."

Some media observers believe, in fact, that the reversal in public perception of which his wife speaks may well be near at hand for them, as Rupert Murdoch purchases more and more well-regarded media outlets. Last spring, for instance, he purchased seven U.S. television stations from Metromedia for $1.55 billion.

Anna Murdoch insists, though, that the search for legitimacy was not her husband's goal. "Rupert has always been legitimate . . . in the business world," she says quickly. "You're talking about the journalist world . . . He is an extremely straight-dealing person. He has never backed out of a deal. He is an amazingly honest human being. Which is why people come to him with deals all the time, why banks lend him money. They know. They don't listen to a lot of the rubbish that's around. I think that the moves in the last year -- he has been looking for some time to go into electronic communications. It's part of our business."

When her husband was asked to comment, a spokesman said "Mr. Murdoch does not wish to be quoted about his wife for your story."

Anna Torv met Rupert Murdoch when she was 19 and a "cadet" reporter, for The Sydney Daily Mirror, which he owns. She was sent to interview her boss for the in-house employee newsletter. "It was a romantic story looking back," she says, "but it didn't seem so at the time. Sparks didn't go off straight away. I think on either part I'm not sure love really works that way, perhaps it does for some people."

They were married in 1967, a second time for Rupert, who has a 27-year-old daughter by his first marriage, Prudence, living in London. At the time Murdoch was just launching his media empire from a tiny newspaper left to him by his father. "He was sort of patted on the head and told to be a good boy . . . by the other people running the paper," she says. "But Rupert had other ideas."

It wasn't until the '70s, when Murdoch bought the beleaguered London Sun for a relative song, that the publishing world began taking note of this mysterious Australian. He immediately installed bare-breasted women on Page 3 as a daily feature and turned the Sun into the bestselling newspaper in England. Soon after he purchased the New York Post.

The Murdochs moved to the United States from London 11 years ago, and it is here that the family calls home. It was also here that Anna Murdoch seems to have realized her husband's penchant for big deals and long hours was leaving a vacuum in her own life.

"I mean I suppose I could have just complained and said, 'You're always busy' and become a whining wife," she says. "But I didn't want to do that, so why not make it a positive thing and use the time?"

She says she is not "a career person," but nine years ago she told her husband that she wanted to go back to college to get her degree.

"He was a little bit -- I remember actually, we were on a chairlift," she recalls. "I think we were out at Sun Valley at the time. We were going up in a chairlift and I had this quite clear vision of my skis going up and down when I told him I was going off to university.

"He was a bit taken aback and sort of said, 'Well, what about the household and so on.' We have a very traditional household and marriage, and I think once he realized that everything was going to be fine, he actually took a great deal of pride in talking about what I was doing at the university."

It has taken Murdoch the better part of the past decade to complete her bachelor's and master's in literature from New York University. She was trying her hand at fiction all the while, although early on she dismissed her husband as her in-house editor.

"He was critical in a way that -- well, he's not a book editor," she says. "I think there are different talents for different people. He probably would not have been so critical for someone else but for me it was devastating, because here was someone who was not only my best friend and my husband and everything else, saying things about something I was really trying to do and not in a way that was helpful to me. So I resolved never to show him anything until it was finished.

"I hear of some marriages where it works. We do hear of managers and wives. It just doesn't work out in our case."

Today, Murdoch also seems to have a solid sense of herself vis-a -vis her husband. When it is brought to her attention that the first sentence of a nonjudgmental New York Times review of her novel notes that she "is the wife of" Rupert Murdoch, she quips, "Well, how can I avoid it?" After a moment's thought, she adds: "Does it bother me? Yes and no. Obviously, I knew that was going to happen. I think the book is good enough to stand up on its own . . . it has nothing to do with the person I am married to and I should be judged by the talent that shows in the novel."

"In Her Own Image" was first published this year in London by William Collins Publishing, of which her husband has a controlling interest. It has since been optioned for a film in Britain and has reached No. 2 on the best seller list in Australia.

She completed it in four years of scribbling and working on her word processor in her upstairs study for four hours a day. Sometimes her husband would take the children -- Elisabeth, 17, Lachlan, 16, and James, 12 -- on trips to give her uninterrupted breaks.

She calls it a "book about forgiveness" and says she chose the subject matter because she was fascinated with motherhood and wanted to explore the negative aspects of it. There are a few tawdry sex scenes. It seems that two sisters happen to be in love with the same man, and as luck would have it, he could only marry one. The other returns home to Australia after a 12-year absence and seduces him. It does not have what you would call a happy ending. Murdoch, although she drew on life experiences, says the book is not autobiographical.

These days, she is busy at work on novel number two, another tome about women, this time set in America.

"I really get a lot of pleasure out of doing it," she says. "It's something I think I do well. The time came when I had to stop talking about it and sit down and do it . . . The scary thing is writing the first book," she says. "Now once you've got a book published people take you seriously as a writer. At least you've done something. Now when you say you're too busy, you're working on a book. It's just not Anna upstairs playing with her word processor."