Unlucky in murder

Most true crime buffs know the story of Lord Lucan and the nanny. The aristocratic gambler tried to drive his wife insane then decided to simply kill his wife but botched the job killing the nanny by mistake. "Lucky" Lucan then went on the run, aided by his wicked friends from the Clermont Club. That, as author Laura Thompson would say, is the myth. It's a myth that has powered countless books, fiction and non-fiction, as well as many a journalistic boondoggle to track down the latest Lucan siting.

In A Different Class of Murder Laura Thompson thoroughly, convincingly and most of all entertainingly dismantles the myth. She starts out by ruminating on "domestic murders" - oh life would be perfect if it just weren't for my spouse/ex/family-member - and questions why the Lucan case was treated as an example of Aristocrats Behaving Badly instead of as a domestic murder. To explore this Thompson revisits not only the case and the cast of characters but the economic and social climate of England in the 1970s.

I've read three books on the Lucan case, the most recent being John Pearson's fabulous The Gamblers, and thought the whole business was open and shut. Thompson proved me wrong. Simply by presenting the facts and questioning assumptions she makes clear that the case against Lucan was driven by class prejudice. She presents a different, more complete, picture of John Bingham (Lord Lucan) and the man she reveals bears little resemblance to the myth.

Whether Lucan killed Sandra Rivett or not can probably never be proven or disproven. The investigation appears to have been a slap dash affair with the police relying a bit too much on estranged-wife, title-lover, perma-victim, and mental patient Veronica Lucan. The police viewed Veronica as a plucky gal who rebelled against the restrictions of Lucan's aristocratic milieu. Based on the quotes Thompson provides the lady, well, the Countess, likes her title. She's also still a bit fixated on old Lucky. Check out her "official" website if you don't believe me.

This is a fascinating, highly entertaining book. A must read for any true crime fan and anyone interested in 70s Britain. (I recommend When the Lights Went Out by Andy Beckett as a companion piece to any reader not familiar with the events of 70s Britain.) Based on this book I'm ordering Laura Thompson's biographies of Agatha Christie and Nancy Mitford - this is a writer to watch.

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