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Aiding and Abetting: A Novel Hardcover – February 20, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (February 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385501536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385501538
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,036,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Muriel Spark (1918-2006) was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century. Spark grew up in Edinburgh and worked as a department store secretary, writer for trade magazines, and literary editor before publishing her first novel in 1957. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), considered her masterpiece, was made into a stage play, a TV series, and a film. Spark became a Dame of the British Empire in 1993.

Customer Reviews

I truly enjoyed this novella, with its tropes of double identity adding up to a delicious comedy.
I can't be more specific without revealing more of the plot, but I just couldn't feel that the plot was interesting or believable.
If you do decide to read the book, think about who would stick by you no matter what you had done.
Donald Mitchell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a real treat to read, with a wonderfully appropriate grand finale which depends on surprise! A unique and suspenseful twist on the traditional murder mystery, this novel is based on the real-life character of Lord Lucan, who in 1974 killed his children's nanny by mistake instead of killing his wife. Though he vanished and has never been found, many have suspected that he has been housed and hidden over the years by a series of aristocratic friends.

In this satiric approach to the true-crime genre, Spark gives us wacky, off-the-wall characters--including two men who claim to be the "real" Lord Lucan. Adding to the dramatic mix are variety of aristocratic "aiders and abettors" who have protected and financially supported Lucan for twenty-five years, a psychiatrist who was once a phony stigmatic but who is now treating both "Lord Lucans," and several former acquaintances who now want Lucan caught, not because they believe that murder is wrong, but because times have changed--"Lucky Lucan failed to show up [for questioning], which was really lowering our standards....he was a very great bore."

Satiric and mordantly critical of aristocratic pretension, this is vintage Spark. Her plotting is tight, with no loose ends and no digressions, and her selection of details is exquisitely careful and controlled. Her themes and motifs, especially those of blood as it relates to both crime and breeding, are so intricately connected to all the characters and the plot, that it is difficult to discuss them without giving away the clever plot twists. And Spark does all this in less than two hundred pages. It is impossible not to read this at a gallop to find out what happens--while smiling the whole time at Spark's wry wit. Mary Whipple
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Aiding and Abetting" has Muriel Spark's trademark lightness and deftness of style. It isn't one of her deepest books, and it lacks the poignancy of her best work; but she still sparkles. As we Muriel Spark Groupies know, she has had a lifelong fascination with the theme of the wrong person (from the murderer's point of view - from the victim's point of view, of course, it's always the wrong person) being murdered by mistake, because that's what almost happened to her when she was a young woman. I wonder if this is the reason this true-crime story appealed to her. I also see echoes of Evelyn Waugh in this book; this is meant as praise, not criticism. I miss the undercurrent of the supernatural, especially the sinister characters who may or may not be demons, that characterizes her best work. For those reading Muriel Spark for the first time, I recommend my favorite of all her books, "A Far Cry From Kensington." You won't be disappointed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on June 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book by Ms. Muriel Spark, "Aiding And Abetting", deals with a crime committed in 1974 and a perpetrator that is known, but still unaccounted for. The crime itself is true and the book is a study of what might have or could have happened in the last 27 years. It is entirely possible that the criminal could read this book, as he would be only 66 years old at the time of publication.
Having no prior knowledge with the event it was difficult to be absorbed in the actual crime. For those who remember it I would imagine the experience of reading this book would be all the more interesting. I enjoyed it, but had I been acquainted with the event before, I believe I would have enjoyed it more. I imagine that many of the players in the book represented real or referred to persons presumed to be involved, but again not knowing the original players and their involvement this aspect was not readily apparent. The Author also chose to run a parallel story about another criminal, which seemed to make the events even more improbable. This is a very brief book and the number of characters was a bit overwhelming.
What is very clear is the condemnation the Author continually points out about the supposed privileged persons of England, and their absurd sense of their self and their place in the world. This is not tabloid nonsense rather a very biting commentary on how this man most likely was able to flee the scene, and how to this day he is seen as something other than a person who should be hung until quite dead. Even the next generation who affects being appalled at their previous generation's behavior really is in search of an interview with the criminal and not an arrest. Ms. Spark takes this to every level of the upper classes and involves the Church as well.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A vividly imagined tale of what might have been had the infamous Lucky Lucan (wanted for murder) come to Paris with his body double, settled in for overpriced psychotherapy with a former fake stigmatic and ultimately ended up sealing his fate in a most unexpected (and unbelievable) way. Although clever in places, witty in spots, I found this book a quick read primarily because I wanted to be finished with it quickly. The characters were brittle and unsympathetic. The scenes artificial. The book flowed like a swift stream, confident even cocky in places, but lacking the kind of depth that makes you want to dive in and swim.
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