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Review: Aiding and Abetting, by Muriel Spark

Pages: 166
Original date of publication: 2001
My edition: 2001 (Anchor Books)
Why I decided to read: Muriel Spark Reading Week
How I acquired my copy: The Philadelphia Book Trader, February 2012

Aiding and Abetting is based on a true story, but embellished upon by Muriel Spark. Lord (“Lucky” due to his successes at the gambling tables) Lucan disappeared from England in 1974 after bludgeoning his children’s nanny, intending for it to be his wife. Officially declared dead in 1999, this novel is a “what if?” about what happened. The story revolves around a psychotherapist, Hildegard Wolfe, who has a sinister past. One day two patients walk into her office declaring that he is the real Lord Lucan. Which one is which?

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.



StuckInABook said…
When I first heard that Spark had written about Lord Lucan, I thought it a very strange idea - but from the way you describe it, I can definitely see how Spark's style and approach could work with this story. And it's one of the ones I have waiting to be read!
skiourophile said…
I'm so pleased to read this review - it sounds like a really interesting take on the case. It's always puzzled me why the case fascinates so much: presumably because it's about the aristocracy, even though the crime was so sordidly ordinary! I seem to recall that the authorities thought that he'd done a bunk to Australia at one point.

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