Aiding and Abettingby Harlan Coben
A dissolute member of the British aristocracy, "Lucky" Lucan has been missing since he accidentally murdered his children
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.
New York Times
- Recorded Books, LLC
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- Unabridged, 4 CDs., 270 minutes
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 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.'
'I will see you on Friday.'
Meet the Author
Muriel Spark is the author of twenty-one novels. She lives in Tuscany, Italy.
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