A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan is an intriguing mix of fact, fiction and opinion – a “whodunnit” of a real life murder scenario. By going back to the events of November 1974, London – when the Lucan’s nanny was bludgeoned to death in the basement of the family mansion, and Lady Lucan brutally attacked – author Laura Thompson tackles one of the great mysteries of the British criminal system: did Lady Lucan’s estranged husband Lord “Lucky” Lucan really murder the nanny in a mistaken belief that he was, in fact, murdering his wife, and what happened to “Lucky” Lucan after he fled the scene of the crime?
The official version that was accepted by the police and the justice system – and which is largely based on the testimony of Lady Lucan – is that Lucan pre-meditated to kill his wife, with whom he was locked into a bitter custody battle over their three children, yet ended up killing the nanny instead, and then – somewhat unsuccessfully – attacked his wife. The matter of what may have happened to Lord Lucan after the murder is less commonly agreed on. To this day, it is unknown whether he killed himself somewhere on the shores of England, or whether he, with the help of his wealthy aristocratic friends, managed to escape from England. In light of the fact that his body was never found, a mythology around his escape evolved to the point that Lucan sightings have been noted in places as diverse as Africa, Australia, France, South America, and even New Zealand.
The Lucan mystery has provided the material for TV documentaries, as well as countless articles and books, including the fictional portrayal of the Lucan story in Muriel Spark’s 2000 novel Aiding and Abetting. There is no doubt that the account of the murder (and Lord and Lady Lucan’s lives in general) makes for a fascinating story, in which the elements of the great unknown holds some real and riveting appeal. The story as told by Thompson in its minute entirety – even going back as far as to include a history of murder according to social class – is a great accomplishment in regards to the sheer volume and consistency of the research that has been put together, and which includes interviews with some of the key figures involving the Lucans. The author emphasises the political and class situation of Britain during that time, which provides a contextual background to the fact that the matter of “class” was an integral issue in how this murder investigation was handled by the authorities, and perceived by the public.
What is less appealing about this book is the author’s style of commentary and conjecture. There are too many instances when the author’s voice becomes somewhat intrusive, and her opinions and judgements on people’s behaviour come across in a kind of amateurish psychological analysis of “should haves” and “what ifs”. It soon becomes too obvious which “side” – if there is such a thing – the author is on, which has the effect of interfering with what could have been a natural process of letting the mystery unfold to the reader.
Like all historical explorations, this book is neither entirely fact, nor entirely fiction. The real-life mystery of Lord and Lady Lucan keeps the narrative going, and the reward for reading through the author’s repetitive declarations comes at the end of the book, where a comprehensive and thought-provoking summary of all the possible scenarios and explanations for the murder and Lucan’s disappearance provides a great deal of material for thought. A Different Class of Murder may just stick in your mind long after the pages of this book have been closed.