lucan book

Hide and seek champion since 1974…

“This is the story of a vile man – and I am that man and I committed a most wicked deed.”

There seems to be nothing quite like a murder to excite the British, and in fact the only way such a thing could be made more exciting would be to have the murderer be a member of the aristocracy. And then, to add to the excitement further, have the murderer vanish into thin air! How remarkable and intriguing would that story be? The truth is, it has happened.

Step forward, Lord Lucan … wherever you are.

For those not in the know, here’s a quick run down. Lord Lucan was a peer of the realm and a really unlucky gambler. On November 7th, 1974, he attempted to kill his wife Veronica. However, things became confused and instead he did in the children’s nanny, Sandra, bludgeoning her to death with a length of lead piping. He fled into the night, was last seen in Uckfield in East Sussex and his car was later discovered on the coast, blood on the seats and another pipe in the boot. He hasn’t been seen since.

For forty years now, the British public have been fascinated by what happened to this man. Was it really him who did it? Was he really trying to kill his wife? If not, why did he run? Did he kill himself? Or, if not, where the hell is he now? This book tries to give us one possible outcome.

The book is supposedly edited versions of memoirs written by Lord Lucan himself after the date of his disappearance. Of course, absolutely no trace of the man has been seen since 1974, so it is entirely fictional, although the book does do a good job of setting up the belief that it’s real. Events begin on the night of the murder and Lucan begins to explain what actually happened to him. In this version of events, Lucan contacted his friend John Aspinall, a famous casino owner and zookeeper from Kent, who took him and hid him in a nicely furnished bunker under his mansion. For four months Lucan lived there, until he was shipped out by freighter from the country with the aid of a former enemy, Jimmy Goldsmith. One of the most common theories for his later whereabouts is Africa, but in this tale he is sent to Goa, India.

There, his memory is hazy, as he has become addicted to heroin in an attempt to blot out the nightmares he’s been having about Sandra, who he sees wherever he turns. He meets Karen who tries to straighten him out, and he is occasionally visisted by Goldsmith, who he believes has set the whole tragedy up to make sure his life is a living hell. And then the visions keep coming.

It’s a really interesting premise for a book, this, as the story of Lord Lucan has interested me and many of my fellow countrymen for decades. I even have a tenuous link to the whole mess, as my grandfather was a policeman who worked on the case for a while (and even claims to know exactly where Lucan’s body is now – he believes he didn’t even survive the rest of the night). It’s fascinating because for all we know, this is what happened to him. Goldsmith and Aspinall are, indeed, real people (although both now deceased) and they were friends of Lucan. Who’s to say that they didn’t hide him? Aspinall in particularly certainly seemed eccentric enough to do so. One train of thought suggests that Lucan’s body was fed to his tigers to hide it forever.

The text is messy, supposedly a product of Lucan’s drug-addled and deranged mind. It slips between the past and the present, sometimes he’s almost poetic, and you can’t always tell what is real and what he’s imagining. His final discussion with Goldsmith leaves a lot of that wide open, and perhaps it’s better that way. What if Lucan himself has no idea what happened? It’s an interesting story even before playing up to the “these are his lost memoirs” idea. You feel for the poor man, a tragic figure who got into a difficult situation. He clearly loves his children (he was in the middle of a custody battle he was sure he’d lose when he planned the murder), which is something that was well-documented with the real man, and I’m prepared to believe that his reactions to leaving them here are probably akin to how he actually felt. Still, we’ll never really know so while it’s a fun thought experiment, it doesn’t answer any questions.

A genuinely beguiling read about one of the most famous missing persons in history.