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Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark (2000)

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Delightfully witty and deliciously wicked, this was a fast, fun summer read. ( )
  MizPurplest | Sep 21, 2015 |
This short novel imaginatively riffing on a real murder mystery involving Lord Lucan's apparent murder of his children's nanny. The historical Lord Lucan disappeared or perhaps died, not one knows. Sparks creates an elaborate farce swirling with concealed, created, and mistaken identities. The plot centers around Lord Lucan in hiding, a double who pretends to be Lord Lucan (and it is often unclear which is which), and there interactions with a sham, but very successful female psychologist practicing to Paris upper echelon. The wit is as barbed as Waugh but more obviously farcical, and perhaps, less mean-spirited, in spite of the grisly fate dished out to some of the characters. A sardonically delightful book. ( )
  sjnorquist | Apr 17, 2014 |
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" (from wikipedia). 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, though she was treated in hospital for serious head injuries. Duncan 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, and 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 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, and the original real-life story itself 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 certainly an intriguing one and is certainly worthy of speculation.

eta: Here's an interesting related article from the Mirror I just found: The truth must finally be told: The truth must finally be told: Why Lord Lucan's son is finally speaking out after 38 years ( )
2 vote Smiler69 | Apr 14, 2014 |
Two persons come into psychiatrist Hildegard Wolf's office, claiming to to Lord Lucan, who, 25 years earlier, murdered his children's nanny while attempting to kill his wife. Which is the real Lord Lucan and what should she do about it? It all left me rather flat. ( )
  gbelik | Mar 14, 2014 |
Who's scamming whom, and which preposterous imposter is a killer, and who will find the real fugitive Earl of Lucan (or is he dead?) and who is more afraid of having the past revealed--the hunter or the hunted? Farcical, bloody and blackly humorous. Not, however laugh-out-loud funny, at least in my opinion, as promised by some reviewers. ( )
2 vote laytonwoman3rd | Feb 5, 2014 |
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The receptionist looked tinier than ever as she showed the tall, tall Englishman into the studio of Dr. Hildegard Wolf, the psychiatrist who had come from Bavaria, then Prague, Dresden, Avila, Marseilles, then London, and now settled in Paris.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385720904, Paperback)

First, a bit of history: The seventh Earl of Lucan disappeared on November 7, 1974, leaving behind the battered body of his children's nanny and a beaten wife. Widely covered in the press, his sensational story has had a surprisingly long half-life, and the speculation about his whereabouts has never quite died out. In this book, Muriel Spark toys with several provocative issues arising out of the case: identity, class, blood ("it is not purifying, it is sticky"), and the dynamics of psychiatry ("most of the money wasted on psychoanalysis goes on time spent unraveling the lies of the patient").

Aiding and Abetting opens sometime late in the 20th century, when an Englishman in his 60s walks into the Paris practice of famed Bavarian psychiatrist Dr Hildegard Wolf and announces that he is the missing Lord Lucan. Yet Hildegrad is already treating one self-confessed Lord Lucan. And what's more, both patients seem to have dirt on her--for isn't she really Beate Pappenheim, a notorious fraud who used her menstrual blood to fake her stigmata? Fearing for her safety, Hildegard flees to London, where her path inevitably crosses that of two British Lucan hunters.

Aiding and Abetting contains more than its share of broad farce and bitter irony. But it remains a strange, slight affair, its unspoken tenet being that the Lucan case still preys on the communal mind of the British public, its details (like the perpetrator's penchant for smoked salmon and lamb chops) indelibly printed there. For anyone under 30, that's a difficult argument to swallow. As one wise character puts it: "Few people today would take Lucan and his pretensions seriously, as they rather tended to do in the 70s." Times have changed indeed--and perhaps that's Spark's point after all, that the "psychological paralysis" of the not-quite-swinging '70s is long gone. --Alan Stewart

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:39 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

It is 25 years since Lord Lucan's 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, each claiming to be Lucan.

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