Aiding and Abetting

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Muriel Spark, one of Britain's greatest living novelists, returns to the literary stage with her most wickedly amusing and subversive novel in years, a savagely witty tale of murder and escape based on the notorious real-life case of Lord Lucan.

A dissolute member of the British aristocracy, "Lucky" Lucan has been missing since he accidentally murdered his children's nanny in an abortive attempt on his wife's life. His puzzling disappearance in the mid-seventies created a ...

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Overview

Muriel Spark, one of Britain's greatest living novelists, returns to the literary stage with her most wickedly amusing and subversive novel in years, a savagely witty tale of murder and escape based on the notorious real-life case of Lord Lucan.

A dissolute member of the British aristocracy, "Lucky" Lucan has been missing since he accidentally murdered his children's nanny in an abortive attempt on his wife's life. His puzzling disappearance in the mid-seventies created a sensation in Britain and a tantalizing mystery as yet unsolved. In Muriel Spark's daring and sophisticated fictional version of Lucan's flight, his adversary is Beate Pappenheim, a fake Bavarian stigmatic who embezzled millions from devout followers before assuming a new identity as a celebrated psychiatrist. These two inhabitants of the farther shores of morality collide memorably in Spark's brilliant new novel, where "aiding and abetting" Lord Lucan's well-padded fugitive life is the name of the beastly upper-class game, and a duel of wits plays out with potentially mortal consequences. The artful murderer meets the master con-woman, but who will emerge victorious?

In part a rumination on the nature of evil, in part a damning indictment of upper-class mores, Aiding and Abetting is a dark and dazzling entertainment from a writer whose clear-eyed judgments never intrude upon her narrative legerdemain. Here is proof beyond doubt that Muriel Spark retains her crown as the most distinguished and entertaining moral satirist of her day.

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Editorial Reviews

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
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.
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: 9780754045168
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/2001
  • Pages: 192

Meet the Author

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



Chapter One

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 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 fact. '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.'

Hildegard was almost jolted at this. She was currently treating another patient who claimed, convincingly, to be the long-missing lord. She suspected collusion.

'I suppose,' said the man at present sitting in her office, 'that you know my story.' She did indeed know his story. She knew it as thoroughly as anyone could, except for the police, who naturally would keep some secrets to themselves.

Hildegard had gathered books, and obtained press cuttings dating from 1974, when the scandal had broken, to the present day. It was a story that was forever cropping up. The man in front of her, aged about sixty-five, looked very like the latest police identikit of Lord Lucan, but so in a different way did the other patient.

The man sitting in front of her had reached down for his briefcase. 'The story is all here,' he said, tapping the bulging bag.

'Tell me about it,' she said.

Yes, in fact, let us all hear about it, once more. Those who were too young or even unborn at the time should be told, too. The Lord Lucan with whom this story is concerned was the seventh Earl of Lucan. He was born on 18th December 1934. He disappeared from the sights of his family and most of his friends on the night of 7th November 1974, under suspicion of having murdered his children's nanny and having attempted to murder his wife. The murder of the girl had been an awful mistake. He had thought, in the darkness of a basement, that she was his wife. The inquest into the death of the nanny, Sandra Rivett, ended in a verdict 'Murder by Lord Lucan' and a warrant for his arrest. As for his wife, Lady Lucan's account of the events of that night fitted in with the findings of the police in all relevant details. However, the police had one very strongly felt complaint: the missing Earl had been aided and abetted in his movements subsequent to the murder. His upperclass friends, said the police, had helped the suspect to get away and cover his tracks. They mocked the police, they stonewalled the enquiries. By the time Lord Lucan's trail had been followed to any likely destination he could have been far away, or dead by his own hand. Many, at the time, believed he had escaped to Africa, where he had friends and resources.

From time to time throughout the intervening years 'sightings' of the missing suspect have been reported. The legend has not been allowed to fade. On 9th July 1994 the Daily Express wrote about him and the frightful end of Sandra Rivett by mistaken identity.

The work, it appeared, of a madman or someone deranged by pressure beyond his control . . . His cheques were bouncing all over smart Belgravia, the school fees had not been paid, he had over drafted at four banks, borrowed money from a lender (at 18 per cent interest), £7,ooo from playboy Taki and £3,ooo from another Greek. His mentor, gambler Stephen Raphael, had also lent him £3,ooo.

On the night of 7th November 1974, the basement of his wife's house was dark. The light-bulb had been removed. Down the stairs came a woman. Lucan struck, not his wife but the nanny. 'When is Sandra's night off?' he had asked one of his daughters very recently. 'Thursday,' she said. But that Thursday Sandra did not take her evening off; instead she went down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea for herself and Lucan's estranged wife. Sandra was bashed and bludgeoned. She was stuffed into a sack. Bashed also was Lucan's wife when she came down to see what was the matter. She was bashed and bloodied. She told how she had at last foiled the attacker whom she named as her husband. She bit him; she had got him by the balls, unmanned him, offered to do a deal of complicity with him and then, when he went to the bathroom to wash away the blood, slipped out of the house and staggered a few yards down the street to a pub into which she burst, covered with blood. 'Murder! . . . the children are still in the house . . .'

He had tried to choke her with a gloved hand and to finish her with the same blunt instrument by which Sandra was killed.

The police arrived at the house. The Earl had fled. He had telephoned his mother telling her to take care of the children, which she did, that very night.

The Earl was known to have been seen briefly by a friend. Then lost. Smuggled out of the country or dead by his own hand?

The good Dr. Wolf looked at her patient and let the above facts run through her head. Was this man sitting in front of her, the claimant to be Lord Lucan, in fact the missing murder suspect? He was smiling, smiling away at her thoughtfulness. And what had he to smile about?

She could ring Interpol, but had private reasons not to do so.

She said, 'There is another "Lord Lucan" in Paris at the moment. I wonder which of you is the real one? Anyway, our time is up. I will be away tomorrow. Come on Friday.'

'Another Lucan?'

'I will see you on Friday.'

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