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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 February 2016
In connection with Lord Lucan being declared officially dead in February 2016, I saw mention of this novel, published in 2000, 26 years after his mysterious disappearance in 1974 after the murder of his children’s nanny and one year after probate had been granted to his family.

The novel is a jeu d’esprit. In Paris the psychiatrist Dr Hildegard Wolf, is visited by an Englishman in his sixties who claims to be Lord Lucan. This startles Dr Wolf, because she already had another patient, going by the name of pseudonym of Walker, who also claimed to be Lord Lucan. Walker feels sure that she will not hand him over to Interpol, because he has discovered that Dr Wolf is herself sought by the police, that her real name was Beate Pappenheim, and that she had absconded from Bavaria in 1986 with large funds collected while pretending to be a stigmatic.

The question arises whether the original patient Walker and the new one, now referred to as Lucky, were in league with each other: had Walker been the hitman for Lucky? Was Lucky using Walker to collect the money with which friends of Lord Lucan were supplying him? Were the odd sightings that had been reported in several parts of the world since his disappearance sightings of Walker or of Lucky? Was Lucky coming to chafe at his dependence on Walker, and was he planning to kill him?

As the story develops, I found it increasingly convoluted - and, frankly, I didn’t care: the book never captured my interest. The characters are cardboard (though we do get - repeatedly - an impression of the real Lord Lucan: so much had been written about him that Muriel Spark did not have to invent him) and I finished the book only because it is mercifully short.
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on 15 August 2014
I really enjoy Spark - she is rapidly becoming one of my favourite writers. I hadn't read her for about 20 years and am finding that now I am older I understand her - she's sly, subtle, vicious and very very funny.

This is an especially enjoyable example of her style - an immediately absorbing and irresistible concept: in Paris, a psychiatrist (with skeletons in her own closet), finds herself with 2 patients claiming each to be Lord Lucan.

Spark is enjoyable for her concise descriptions, believable characters, excellent dialogue (her trademark) and in this book, sharp insights and savage digs at psychiatry and the English class system, not to mention money, religion and relationships.

But this isn't a dry, wordy, serious book - it doesn't read like high concept Literature. It reads like a page-turner - and is a very fast read because, quite simply, you want to find out what happens.

'What happens' is a scream.... Highly recommended.
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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. Lord Lucan seems like such a useless person that it seems like a waste of one's time to even have to think about him. That could have been overcome by spending more time satirizing those who helped him, but, alas, she did not do that.
If you do decide to read the book, think about who would stick by you no matter what you had done. Why would they? How can you develop more close ties who would do the same, not because they will need to do so, but because you will benefit from that kind of close relationship?
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on 14 October 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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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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 January 2010
Muriel Spark here writes a version of what happened to Lord Lucan, after he murdered the family's young nanny, tried to murder his wife and fled with the assistance of several rich, dissolute, English acquaintances. Some of these were real friends of course, as it seems, in life as well as the course of this novel, they continued to support him while he was hiding out in various places around the world.

Dr Hildegarde Wolfe, a psychologist living and working in Paris, receives visits from two men claiming to be Lord Lucan. Which is the real one? Are they working together? What is it they know about Dr Wolfe that makes them confident she will not expose them?

This is far too relaxed and self-absorbed to be a mystery in the genré sense of the word and suspense is quite absent, since that is not what Muriel Spark is interested in. The book is a short diverting romp through the conundrum of what really happened to Lord Lucan. There is a certain arid quality since no attempt is made to make any of the characters resonant or to flesh out the actual Lucan mystery itself. Little imagination is expended on what Lucan might really have been up to all these years. The characters are draughts-pieces in Spark's game, which doesn't really make itself felt in the human sense. Intellectually, it is also a bit pointless, and ultimately one doesn't really give a damn.
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