I’ve grown very fond of the Muriel Spark who wrote (among many others) Loitering with Intent, Memento Mori and A Far Cry from Kensington, which are among my favourite novels, and while I was expecting to be highly diverted by Aiding and Abetting, it was another of those instances where high expectations are probably to blame for my relative lack of appreciation. The story is based on a true crime committed by “Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan (born 18 December 1934), popularly known as Lord Lucan, a British peer and suspected murderer, disappeared without trace early on 8 November 1974”. Now that I’m reading the wikipedia entry about the man, it occurs to me I might have enjoyed Spark’s novel more had I had the full details as revealed there, along with that photo of a beautiful man—who indeed would have been a very good James Bond candidate—in mind. Lucan was a gambler, and his marriage to his gorgeous wife Veronica Duncan collapsed in 1972; a bitter custody battle over their three children ensued, and it seems Lucan developed an obsession over his ex-wife and somehow determined that doing away with her would be the solution to all his problems, financial and otherwise. The attempted murder was horribly botched. While reportedly waiting for his wife to come down the darkened basement stairs of their former mutual home, the inquest revealed that he probably mistook their nanny Sandra Rivett for Veronica, bludgeoned her to death, and then realizing his mistake, viciously attacked his wife when she showed up thereafter; Duncan was treated in hospital for serious head injuries and survived the ordeal, but Lucan disappeared and was never apprehended for his crimes. Lucan’s fate has remained a high-profile mystery for the British public. Many reports of sightings of Lucan in various countries around the world have been made, though none were substantiated, and despite an ongoing police investigation and continued press coverage, Lucan has continued to evade discovery.
To make the story her own, Spark bases her theories on the fact that many friends and family members of Lucan came to his defence during the investigation, no doubt largely owing to his position in society as a British peer (i.e. member of British nobility). The story is a contemporary one, in which Lucan and another man who also claims to be Lucan, but calls himself Mr Walker, both become patients of a famous psychiatrist, Hildegard Wolf, at her Paris office. What we are led to understand is that a now elderly Lucan has evaded the authorities by having facial reconstruction and thanks to his supporters, has been traveling around the world with the aid of funds provided by his wealthy friends. But now Lucan and Walker, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the former, are believed to be working together, and having come on hard times, are bent on blackmailing Dr Wolf, having discovered a secret past and identity she also needs to keep hidden.
The premise is certainly fascinating, and this should have worked for me, but somehow it failed to do so. I didn’t find the bitter humour I so enjoyed in the Spark novels I’ve listed above, and I failed to feel any real interest for any of the protagonists or their fates. But then again, I knew little to nothing about the affair or the real human beings behind the story until I read the book. The real-life story seemed far-fetched enough to make for perfectly good fiction, so it seemed to me all the additional intrigue was unnecessary. That being said, far be it from me to want to discourage anyone from deciding for themselves whether this is a novel worthy of attention or not. I may reread it someday, along with other Muriel Spark works I want to revisit, and then again, I may not. But if anything, Lucan’s story is an intriguing one and is certainly worthy of speculation.
eta: Here’s a related article from the Mirror I just found: The truth must finally be told: Why Lord Lucan’s son is finally speaking out after 38 years