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Aiding and Abetting [Paperback]

Muriel Spark
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 Sep 2001
It is 25 years after Lord Lucan's mysterious disappearance in the wake of the vicious murder of his children's nanny. The celebrated psychiatrist Dr Hildegard Wolf is approached in her Paris consulting rooms by not one, but two men, both claiming tobe Lucan. Dr Wolf is intrigued. Which, if either, of the men is the real 'Lucky' Lucan? And can she discover the truth before her own dark secret is revealed?

Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; New edition edition (27 Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014100990X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141009902
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.6 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 751,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

At the end of the 20th century, 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. But Hildegrad, key protagonist of Muriel Spark's new novel Aiding and Abetting, is already treating one Lord Lucan, and they both have dirt on her--for isn't she really Beate Pappenheim, the fraud who used her menstrual blood to fake her stigmata? Increasingly obsessed with the Lucans, and fearing for her safety, Hildegard flees to London where her path inevitably crosses that of two British Lucan-hunters...

The seventh earl of Lucan disappeared on 7 November 1974, leaving behind him the battered body of his children's nanny Sandra Rivett and a beaten wife. Lucan´s sensational story and the possibilities of his whereabouts over the past quarter century provide Spark with several issues with which wittily to play: identity, blood ("it is not purifying, it is sticky"), class (working class nannies bleed more than the aristocracy), the dynamics of psychiatry ("most of the money wasted on psychoanalysis goes on time spent unravelling the lies of the patient"). 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 his penchant for smoked salmon and lamp chops) indelibly printed there. For anyone under 30 that's a difficult argument to swallow, and for good reason. 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--and perhaps that's Spark's point, that the "psychological paralysis" that allowed Lucan to escape is now long gone. --Alan Stewart --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Unmistakable Spark, to be relished and enjoyed, like a late vintage claret or a high-grade murder' The Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic farce. 25 Sep 2003
This is a real treat to read, with a wonderfully appropriate grande finale which depends on surprise! A unique and suspenseful twist on the traditional murder mystery, this novel features wacky, off-the-wall characters--including two men who claim to be the murderer Lord Lucan, a variety of aristocratic "aiders and abettors" who have protected and financially supported him for twenty-five years, a psychiatrist who was once a phony stigmatic but who is now treating both "Lucans," and several former acquaintances who now want Lucan caught, only 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 plot is very 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's 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enigmatic novella 15 Feb 2001
By A Customer
Twenty-five years after the murder of nanny Sandra Rivett, two Lord Lucans consult Parisian psychiatrist Dr. Hildegard Wolf. The anniversary is also the catalyst for a new investigation into Lucan's disappearance, conducted by the daughter of one of Lucan's former friends. Hildegard is initially shocked by having to treat two Lucans, but then takes it in her stride. One of the Lucans, obviously, has to be fake, but which one? However, both Lucans know about Hildegard's subversive past, and have got a hold on her, forcing her to flee. If it's one thing Lucan knows well, it's how to run...
Resumes of this novel can't help but sound fantastic and more than a little distasteful. After all, those who suffered from Lucan's crime are still living. However, the disappearance of Lucan remains as enigmatic today as it ever was. The rumours of what happened to him, and what actually happened on the night he killed Sandra Rivett are numerous. All these are discussed in Spark's novel, although the common belief amongst Lucan's former friends that he must have killed himself is arbitrarily dismissed. The question is how could such a dull man ever have evaded capture for so long? One of the most improbable stories about Lucan, printed in the Guardian at the time of the murder, was that he was once considered for the film role of James Bond.
It seems that Muriel Spark has borrowed the name of Robert Walker (the alias of one of the Lucans), from Hitchcock's film 'Strangers on a Train'. This fits her story since both Lucans are presumed to be in collusion with one another for some reason. In Hitchcock's film, Robert Walker kills Farley Granger's wife, and then blackmails Granger to murder his business tycoon father. Both Lucans blackmail Hildegard about her shady past.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Satire, Irony, and Farce 7 May 2004
The absurdities of the upper classes often amuse readers, and this one is excellent in that regard. Being the 7th Earl of Lucan doesn't mean that you have any sense, have any purpose in your life, or do any good. Regardless of all that, people will rally around to help him . . . because of the old school tie and all that.
Ms. Spark seems to have imagined her ending, and then simply developed a plot that could connect that back to the real-life murder and attempted murder that form the basis of the book.
The second story line is about a fake stigmatic from Bavaria who disappeared after stealing donated funds. Being at least a little imaginative, Beate Pappenheim will appeal to more readers than Lord Lucan will. However, she wasn't really necessary for the joke, but does give Ms. Spark the ability to stretch a short story into a novella.
To stir up a little interest, the book has a small mystery to solve. Who is Lord Lucan? In pursuing this idea of identity, the book takes off on modern psychiatry . . . basically pointing out that there's not much there. Ms. Pappenheim pretends to be a psychiatrist, ignores all the rules, and still creates a series of very devoted patients who depend on her.
Ms. Spark also explores imagery in many significant ways to develop her story. Blood is the key image. Blood ties the upper classes together. Blood is part of a woman's monthly cycle. A messy murder causes blood to be spilled. Being able to use blood in new ways creates opportunity for Ms. Pappenheim. Being able to describe what it's like to kill in cold blood is a way to identify Lord Lucan. And so on. Ms. Sharp shows her writing brilliance in these ways.
Ultimately, I was sorry that she didn't pick a more worthy subject for her humor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not of this world, I'm afraid. 14 Oct 2008
Aiding and Abetting
This book was a great disappointment, I thought - a short story padded out to roughly the length of half a novel. The Lucan story is endlessly repeated, with constant repetition of the facts of the case as researched by Spark and her 'characters', if they deserve such a title. Yes, the plot is ingenious, but too much happens for such a short book, with little development of settings or bringing incidents to life by 'showing' rather than telling.

Characterisation is superficial, Lucan in particular being a mere cardboard cut-out ('boring' characters don't have to be flat and dull!), and these characters inhabit a world which may or may not be 'real' to London metropolitan readers but which bears little resemblance to reality as most readers know it. Wodehouse without the wit, I'm afraid. Black farce needs some interest in the characters' fates, and frankly I couldn't care less what happened to any of these.

Something of a pot-boiler for Spark, I'm afraid. Don't bother.
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