Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 212 pages; 2000.
Truth is often stranger than fiction, and no more so than in the case of Lord Lucan, an English aristocrat, who has been missing since the night of November 7, 1974. On this night the nanny looking after Lucan’s three children was brutally murdered and his wife suffered severe head wounds in the attack. Lucan, who had a gambling problem and had racked up considerable debts, was suspected of the crime. Wanted on charges of murder and attempted murder, he was never brought to court, and despite being declared officially dead in 1999, numerous “sightings” of him still occur around the world.
The late Muriel Spark, one of Britain’s most acclaimed and prolific writers, takes this real life story, one that has fascinated generations of Brits, and turns it on its head. She has Lucan still alive, on the run from the law but supported by a closeted network of aristocratic friends. When he presents himself for treatment at the consulting rooms of a Paris-based psychiatrist, Dr Hildegard Wolf is immediately intrigued — and not just because of Lucan’s mysterious past. It turns out she is already treating another man, who also claims to be Lord Lucan. And so she must try to unravel which Lucan — if any — is the real seventh Earl, and then she must determine what threat each poses to her new life, far from the one in which she was a fake stigmatic defrauding people of money for her own gain.
What follows is a fun, high-tension, hilarious romp that spans Paris, London and the Highlands of Scotland as Lucan and Dr Wolf both go on the run. Without wishing to give too much of the remaining plot away, I can safely say the ending is a satisfyingly wicked one.
Aiding and Abetting is, quite simply, a delight from start to finish. Its pared down, elegant prose and fast-moving storyline makes it a deliciously quick read. But because it strays into areas of morality and crime there’s enough substance to give real food for thought. It might appear to be a rather simple novel but don’t let that trick you into thinking it doesn’t deal with rather complex issues…
If you like this book, you might also like The Butterfly Man by Heather Rose, which has Lord Lucan reinvent himself as a Scottish expat living in Tasmania.
You can find out more about the real life Lord Lucan story on the Channel 4 website.