Title: A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan
Author: Laura Thompson
Challenges: Reading England (second book for London so it doesn’t really count)
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
In November1974 in the basement of 46A Lower Belgrave Street, London a murder was committed. A young nanny was bludgeoned to death, followed by a vicious attack on the other woman who lived in the house, Lady Veronica Lucan. I’m not here to suggest that this is not an extraordinary and horrifying event, however what makes this particular murder so enduring in society’s mind is that the suspected murder is Lord Lucan. An aristocrat by birth and a ‘professional gambler’ by career (yeah not exactly a profession in my mind) Lucan had recently lost a bitter custody battle with his estranged wife, had a mountain of debts running up from his gambling habits and just vanished on the night of the murder. Laura Thompson’s book seeks to address the myth surrounding Lucan, his circle of friends and what really happened that November night. Thompson gives a detailed introduction to the Lucan family and his ancestors as well as an interesting discussion on ‘the Lucan circle’ and possible theories as to the true identity of the murder.
At some point last year I remember catching the second part of a Channel Four (I think) drama based on Lord Lucan; I missed the first part but I was instantly intrigued. Having been born in 1987 I missed all the drama surrounding the initial case although I have vague recollections of hearing the name ‘Lord Lucan’ but no real understanding of what it meant/who he was. As soon as I saw the programme I knew I wanted to read a book about the case, however I was disappointed when I asked at Waterstones about books on the topic. So imagine my joy when I found out about A Different Class of Murder and when I snapped it up for 99p.
A Different Class of Murder is more than just an exploration of this case, it touches on the history of aristocratic murders and domestic murders and the social changes occurring in the 1960s/1970s. This build up was certainly very interesting however I felt it dragged slightly and I toyed with skipping sections -but I didn’t- and I was certainly pleased when the focus returned to the crime. In places it read like a crime novel or at least a deconstruction of one and I love a good crime novel. I loved the links and quotations from Agatha Christie, which I later found out were largely helped by Thompson’s biography on the crime writer (thank you to Fleur in her World for that snippet). Thompson offers many alternatives to the common belief that it was Lord Lucan who committed this vicious murder and attack on his wife, each of which is equally convincing and believable when you take into account the actual facts and not the opinions of the case. I can see the different sides of the argument, but I also can’t believe that more proof wasn’t required in order to name and essentially hound Lord Lucan.
The discussion on the build up and the murder itself was fascinating and Thompson certainly explores every avenue and possibility and helps to highlight the numerous flaws in the police’s case. It is amazing the number of problems that the police pretty much ignored and I cannot believe that they were able to name and charge Lord Lucan without giving him the option of a defence. The prejudice aimed at Lucan and his circle of friends, particularly from the press, is almost unbelievable at times and Thompson quite rightly states that this would not have been allowed if they were dealing with a working class murder. Perhaps the most memorable and poignant point Thompson makes is as follows:
‘Truth requires that the other side is also heard. Otherwise the solution, however much of truth it contains, can only ever exist in the realms of fiction.’
It is important to remember this when looking at the Lucan case, especially as the police only ever put emphasis on Veronica’s story and appeared to take this as gospel right from the start. I couldn’t say what happened on that November night and I certainly couldn’t explain why Lucan ran if he wasn’t a little bit guilty, but I can definitely understand the morbid fascination with this case. Murder is always an interesting subject and I think one that hasn’t ever been truly resolved is the most interesting of them all. I doubt we will ever discover what really happened that fatal night but Thompson’s book is a great discussion on the possible reasons and I can definitely recommend it.