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
From Publishers 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)
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