Cleverly skewing the legend of the infamous Lord Lucan, Coles sets the stage for a literary conceit that reinvents that terrible night in 1974 when a man of privilege lost his grip, botching his carefully planned murder, and where only his friends came to his rescue and offered him a chance of escape from the law. When we first meet Richard John Bingham known better as Lucky lord Lucan he has been married to Veronica for many years, but is experiencing an anxiety. Desperate to escape the strictures of his marriage, his plan is to murder his wife at their home in Belgravia is as desperate as it is audacious. Lucan is the first to admit that he's a most vile man for allowing it to happen yet Despite it all he has this skewered sense of belief that he is doing it for the good of his three children.
Of course everything goes wrong with the shocking murder of poor Sandra Rivett, who at the age of just 29 is hammered to death in the basement of Veronica's Belgravia home. The random brutality of the initial violence by Lucan's hired henchman who he never sees again, infects every facet of Lucan's being. And to be sure metaphorical house of cards has fallen far differently from how Lucan expected. After leaving his friend Susan Maxwell-Scott's house n Uckfield, Lucan's story becomes a blank canvas while he recounts his car, the Ford Corsair, found abandoned at Newhaven, the bloodstain inside, along with the piece of bandaged lead piping, unstained, but very similar to the one found in the murder house, and also his efforts to sink his beloved boat.
From here it is Coles' clever recreation of events - with typical traces of conceit and upper-class Etonian self-aggrandizement - that make Lucan's narrative so chilling. The author describes in a new, breathtaking reality the rumors that he had been whisked abroad by his fellow cronies at the Clermont Club, particularly his friendship with Apsers, a millionaire gambler and big-hitter who chats away with of if he'd done nothing of any consequence than be picked up from the station and who shelters him in the basement of his home, in a dark airless, windowless bunker for nearly four months. There's also Lucan's sense of self-righteousness in the moments straight after Sandra's murder and his apology to the doomed woman that is so outrageous when considering his brutally honest account of how he wanted to dump Veronica's dead body in the English Channel.
But what transforms the case from that of a squalid domestic murder into something altogether more electrifying is not so much the horror of Sandra's death is Coles' fascinating recreation of Lucan's disappearance, his journey to Goa, India via a cramped container with its fug of stale air in the storage hold of a cargo ship, and that of his arch nemesis Jimmy Goldsmith who dispatches him with all the indifference of "a schoolboy stamping a spider." Lucan becomes his plaything when Jimmy soon introduces him to hashish and then the very act of stepping into the abyss becomes a total blueprint for the creation of a heroin addict with all of the smoking and then the full-on mainlining.
Constantly speaking in Lucan's voice, Coles' prose is both uncharacteristically lyrical and morbidly penetrating as he cautiously examines Lucan's soulful regrets for Sandra, the awful sight of her tiny body tucked into a US mailbag, and his internal agonies as an outcast, never able to see his three children again, and his drug-fuelled ramblings where he goes in the run through India, convinced that Goldsmith is constantly out to get him. In fact, Lucan's weary acceptance of his fate, his life as a drug-addled tramp in Goa seems to cast him in an unusually sympathetic light. Coles constantly manipulates his protagonist, and by in turns the reader, in a cadaverous portrait of a murderer who must do battle with his demons as he looks for some sort of redemption that eludes him. Mike Leonard September 09.