Aiding and Abetting: A Novel

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Overview

In Aiding and Abetting, the doyenne of literary satire has written a wickedly amusing and subversive novel around the true-crime case of one of England’s most notorious uppercrust scoundrels and the “aiders and abetters” who kept him on the loose.

When Lord Lucan walks into psychiatrist Hildegard Wolf’s Paris office, there is one problem: she already has a patient who says he’s Lucan, the fugitive murderer who bludgeoned his children’s nanny in a botched attempt to kill his ...

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Overview

In Aiding and Abetting, the doyenne of literary satire has written a wickedly amusing and subversive novel around the true-crime case of one of England’s most notorious uppercrust scoundrels and the “aiders and abetters” who kept him on the loose.

When Lord Lucan walks into psychiatrist Hildegard Wolf’s Paris office, there is one problem: she already has a patient who says he’s Lucan, the fugitive murderer who bludgeoned his children’s nanny in a botched attempt to kill his wife. As Dr. Wolf sets about deciding which of her patients, if either, is the real Lucan, she finds herself in a fierce battle of wills and an exciting chase across Europe. For someone is deceiving someone, and it may be the good doctor, who, despite her unorthodox therapeutic method (she talks mainly about her own life), has a sinister past, too.
Exhibiting Muriel Spark’s boundless imagination and biting wit, Aiding and Abetting is a brisk, clever, and deliciously entertaining tale by one of Britain’s greatest living novelists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Elegant and chilling. . . . A trickily plotted black comedy that reads at once as a morality play and a glittering entertainment.” –The New York Times

“Strangely gripping and gnomically illuminating. . . . Spark has produced one of the best of her sui-generis novels.” –John Updike, The New Yorker

“A killer, his double, a shrink and her lover are the core cast of madcap characters in this gleefully grisly novel. . . . Spark does a remarkable job of weaving wacky personalities and gruesome details into a fast-moving, subversive comedy. . . . This book will make you laugh out loud.” –The Wall Street Journal

Jennifer Braunschweiger
With her customary wit and firm command of language, Sparks weaves a tale equal in intrigue and interest to the events that inspired the novel.
Book Magazine
Washington Post Book Review
Two men, both claiming to be an English lord on the run from the law, show up for psychoanalysis with a fashionable Parisian doctor. Spark continues to astonish.
Michiko Kakutani
[Spark satirizes] the manners and mores (and moral failings) of the aristocracy while creating a trickily plotted black comedy that reads at once as a morality play and a glittering entertainment.
New York Times
San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle
A rare writer...wickedly funny...astonishingly talented...and truly inimitable.
From The Critics
In her latest book, Spark reimagines the real-life disappearance of a notorious British murderer, the seventh Earl of Lucan, and postulates what might have happened after the bloody night that established his infamy. In 1974, "Lucky" Lucan, thinking he was attacking his own wife, bashed in the head of his children's nanny. After discovering that he had killed the wrong woman, Lucan went after his wife, who ultimately managed to escape and summon help. Too late, though: With the aid of a wide network of aristocratic friends, Lucan had vanished. In Spark's deft hands, the improbable then becomes fantastic: Spark picks up the story many years later, when Lucan is the patient of a psychologist in Paris, Hildegard Wolf. But Lucan is not the only one of her patients claiming to be the errant Earl. She is also treating a patient named Walker, who similarly confesses to the crimes. The two men turn out to be entwined in sinister ways, and even Wolf is not who she appears. With her customary wit and firm command of language, Spark weaves a tale equal in intrigue and interest to the events that inspired the novel.
—Jennifer Braunschweiger

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Terse, astringent and blessed with a wicked satiric wit, Spark has been casting a jaundiced eye on British society in more than 20 works of fiction, including Memento Mori and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Here she spins an inspired "what-if" scenario on the criminal career of the notorious seventh Earl of Lucan, convicted in absentia in 1974 of bludgeoning his children's nanny to death and severely wounding his wife, before eluding the police and leaving the country. It was clear at the time, Spark reminds readers, that "Lucky" Lucan could not have avoided capture unless he was liberally supplied with funds, undoubtedly by other members of the arrogant aristocracy who considered class loyalty more important than justice, and whose warped morality convinced them that they were above the law. Spark's ingenious plot, set in the present, features two men who identify themselves as the fugitive Lucan when they (separately) consult a notorious Paris psychiatrist, Hildegard Wolf. Wolf's unconventional methods have made her famous, but in this case she is bewildered by the situation until one of the men threatens her with blackmail. Lucan, it turns out, is not the only one with blood on his hands. Wolf was born Beate Pappenheim in Bavaria, and under that name perpetrated a notorious scam in which she passed herself off as a stigmatic, creating her "wounds" with her menstrual blood. After soliciting contributions to perform "miracles," she absconded with millions. As the narrative unfolds, the reader is immersed in a puzzling maze with three characters who are all imposters and fraudsDone of whom is a murderer, too. Only a writer of Spark's caliber could get away with the coincidences in the blatantly manipulated plot but, then again, she writes brilliantly about the criminal mind. (Feb. 20) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
After a recent foray into memoir-writing, Spark returns to more familiar territory with this speculative novel about the possible fate of Lord Lucan, who disappeared from public view in 1974 after his wife was nearly bludgeoned to death and their nanny was murdered. Lucan was tried for the crimes and found guilty in absentia and has never been seen again. This novel, in fact, features two putative Lucans, both of whom consult a shadowy psychiatrist called Hildegard Wolf, who is also based on an actual person. Wolf has developed a flourishing practice by employing the unusual method of discussing her own past before allowing her patients to unburden themselves. The two Lucans, one calling himself "Walker," have uncovered the doctor's own mysterious past in which, as a struggling student years earlier, she was convicted of fraud for posing as a stigmatic with natural healing powers. These three circle around one another in a dance of increasing intensity and danger. Most libraries will wish to purchase this taut and engrossing psychological tale. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/00.]--Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., ON Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
With her usual and famous narrative economies—though without the deeper energies she's created in other of her books—Dame Muriel weaves her own fabric out of the real-life bits and threads left by the vile Lord Lucan. On November 7th, 1974, the seventh Earl of Lucan mistakenly bludgeoned to death his children's nanny instead of his divorced wife—whom he managed only to wound badly in spite of his feeling that"destiny" called for her death (he was angry, it seems, that she'd been given child-custody). And then? After wreaking his cruel havoc, the shallow Lucan quickly disappeared, wanted for murder and attempted murder but aided by influential friends in escape and hiding. Twenty-five years later, as the present novel opens, there appears in the office of a Paris psychoanalyst a patient claiming to be Lucan—followed by another claiming the same. Which, if either, is the real Lucan? And what does he, or they, want? Money, not surprisingly, which he/they hope to gain by blackmailing the shrink, she being one Hildegard Wolf, herself still wanted for an earlier and successful life of criminal fraud under a previous name—a vulnerability that makes her, think the Lucans, unlikely to turn them in. But of course it's got to be cleared up as to which Lucan is Lucan—as, meanwhile, other complications ensue, such as Hildegard Wolf's quick disappearance into hiding in deepest London; the pursuit of the real Lucan by a pair newly in love but connected from far back indeed with Lucan and the horrible murder; and the skilled and timely maneuverings of Pierre, Hildegard's lover back in Paris, which will result in—well, in the Waughesque endofthestory. Quick, incisive, often entertaining, sometimes mysterious, at a moment or two compelling, but overall and generally, slight. Yet, from this venerable author, even slight is still Sparkian.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385720908
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/12/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 432,778
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Muriel Spark is the author of twenty-one novels. She lives in Tuscany, Italy.
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Read an Excerpt

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.

"I have come to consult you," he said, "because I have no peace of mind. Twenty-five years ago I sold my soul to the Devil." The Englishman spoke in a very foreign French.
"Would you feel easier," she said, "if we spoke in English? I am an English speaker of a sort since I was a student."

"Far easier," he said, "although, in a sense, it makes the reality more distressing. What I have to tell you is an English story."
 
Dr. Wolf's therapeutic methods had been perfected by herself. They had made her virtually the most successful psychiatrist in Paris, or at least the most sought-after. At the same time she was tentatively copied; those who tried to do so generally failed. The method alone did not suffice. Her personality was needed as well.
 
What she did for the most part was talk about herself throughout the first three sessions, turning only casually on the problems of her patients; then, gradually, in an offhand way she would induce them to begin to discuss themselves. Some patients, angered, did not return after the first or at least second session, conducted on these lines. Others remonstrated, "Don't you want to hear about my problem?"

"No, quite frankly, I don't very much."

Many, fascinated, returned to her studio and it was they who, so it was widely claimed, reaped their reward. By now her method was famous and even studied in the universities. The Wolf method.

"I sold my soul to the Devil."

"Once in my life," she said, "I had a chance to do that. Only I wasn't offered enough. Let me tell you about it . . ."
 
He had heard that she would do just this. The friend who had recommended her to him, a priest who had been through her hands during a troubled period, told him, "She advised me not to try to pray. She advised me to shut up and listen. Read the Gospel, she said. Jesus is praying to you for sympathy. You have to see his point of view, what he had to put up with. Listen, don't talk. Read the Bible. Take it in. God is talking, not you."

Her new patient sat still and listened, luxuriating in the expenditure of money which he would have found impossible only three weeks ago. For twenty-five years, since he was struck down in England by a disaster, he had been a furtive fugitive, always precariously beholden to his friends, his many friends, but still, playing the role of benefactors, their numbers diminishing. Three weeks ago his nickname Lucky had become a solidified fact. He was lucky. He had in fact discovered some money waiting for him on the death of one of his main aiders and abetters. It had been locked in a safe, waiting for him to turn up. He could afford to have a conscience. He could now consult at leisure one of the most expensive and most highly recommended psychiatrists in Paris. "You have to listen to her, she makes you listen, first of all," they said?"they" being at least four people. He sat blissfully in his smart clothes and listened. He sat before her desk in a leather chair with arms; he lounged. It was strange how so many people of the past had been under the impression he had already collected the money left for him in a special account. Even his benefactor's wife had not known about its existence.

He might, in fact, have been anybody. But she arranged for the money to be handed over without a question. His name was Lucky and lucky he was indeed.

But money did not last. He gambled greatly.

The windows of Dr. Wolf's consulting rooms on the Boulevard St. Germain were double-glazed to allow only a pleasing hum of traffic to penetrate.

"I don't know how it struck you," said Hildegard (Dr. Wolf) to her patient. "But to me, selling one's soul to the Devil involves murder. Anything less is not worthy of the designation. You can sell your soul to a number of agents, let's face it, but to the Devil there has to be a killing or so involved. In my case, it was many years ago, I was treating a patient who became psychologically dependent on me. A young man, not very nice. His problem was a tendency to suicide. One was tempted to encourage him in his desire. He was simply nasty, simply cruel. His fortune was immense. I was offered a sum of money by his cousin, the next of kin, to slide this awful young man down the slope. But I didn't. I sensed the meanness of the cousin, and doubted whether he would really have parted with the money once my patient was dead. I refused. Perhaps, if I had been offered a substantially larger sum, I would have made that pact with the Devil. Who knows? As it was, I said no, I wouldn't urge the awful young man to take his own life. In fact I encouraged him to live. But to do otherwise would have definitely, I think, led to his death and I would have been guilty of murder."
 
"Did he ever take his life, then?"

"No, he is alive today."

The Englishman was looking at Hildegard in a penetrating way as if to read her true thoughts. Perhaps he wondered if she was in fact trying to tell him that she doubted his story. He wanted to get away from her office, now. He had paid for his first session on demand, a very stiff fee, as he reckoned, of fifteen hundred dollars for three quarters of an hour. But she talked on. He sat and listened with a large bulging leather briefcase at his feet.

For the rest of the period she told him she had been living in Paris now for over twelve years, and found it congenial to her way of life and her work. She told him she had a great many friends in the fields of medicine, music, religion and art, and although well into her forties, it was just possible she might still marry. "But I would never give up my profession," she said. "I do so love it."
 
His time was up, and she had not asked him a single question about himself. She took it for granted he would continue with her. She shook hands and told him to fix his next appointment with the receptionist. Which, in fact, he did.

It was towards the end of that month that Hildegard asked him her first question.

"What can I do for you?" she said, as if he was positively intruding on her professional time.

He gave her an arrogant look, sweeping her face. "First," he said, "I have to tell you that I'm wanted by the police on two counts: murder and attempted murder. I have been wanted for over twenty years. I am the missing Lord Lucan."

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