It is 25 years after Lord Lucan's mysterious disappearance in the wake of the vicious murder of his children's nanny. The celebrated psychiatrist Dr. Hildegard Wolf is approached in her Paris consulting rooms by not one, but two men, both claiming to be Lucan. Can Dr. Wolf unveil the mystery before her own dark secret is revealed?
As with many of Muriel Spark novels, nothing is what it seems on the surface. It seems at first to be a case of mistaken or hidden identity, but the story evolves into much more than that. This is a pretty bizarre story, filled with farcical coincidences. All of them were “aiders and abetters” who apparently sought to confuse and befuddle the police. Added on top of this is an author looking to write Lord Lucan’s story and publish an exclusive interview with him. It’s interesting that Spark theorizes details of the case that were later verified or speculated upon—such as Lord Lucan having received plastic surgery after the murders. Everyone keeps seeing Lucan everywhere, “but it may not have been him.”
It’s an interesting case, and it’s fun to wonder about what really did happen to the missing Earl. Spark’s tale is purely fantasy, of course, though she sticks with many of the details of the case. In fact, she probably got the idea for the two Lord Lucans from the account of a close friend of Lucans, who saw him in Africa in the 1980s. According to the friend, he saw Lucan standing on a bridge and was later joined by a friend who claimed that he too was Lord Lucan. There are been over 70 “sightings” of him all over the world; in February 2012, new evidence came to light to support the claim that he was in Africa. The question remains, though: is Lucan really dead? By now I think so.
Has this ever been filmed? It should be. But not by Martin Scorsese or someone lame like that. I don't know who. But not him.
AIDING AND ABETTING sparkles with wit and the things usual that make her always an entertaining story-teller. Sparks novels, never prolix, have the spare beauty of a Hitchcock heroine: Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly, or someone of that ilk. Did I mention that this novel was written in her eighties.
Spark has fun playing around with the idea of what it would be like to spend such a large part of your life as a fugitive, and with such a nasty crime on your conscience (if indeed you have a conscience). And she enjoys hypothesising about how (and why) Lucan's friends could have protected him for so long. Interestingly, she has her imagined Lucan reflect that his fellow-peers mostly failed to exhibit class solidarity, and that it is his gambling pals who have been financing his undercover lifestyle. She resists the temptation to romanticise Lucan himself, though: he comes across as an arrogant, selfish bore. And he gets treated to a suitably Sparkish ending, too.