The One with the Fall of a Decadent Aristocrat

Laura Thompson, A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan (2014)

I started this book on the wrong foot. It was a Christmas present from my husband who had been lured by the promise of true-crime-meets-Downton-Abbey… which seemed exactly right for me (damn Amazon algorithm… I hate it when I am predictable). But despite the blurb I soon felt that I wasn’t the target audience of this book.

The first pages were so confusing that I almost quit. First, the author assumes that you know all about the Lord Lucan’s case, and she assumes that you know what the media told at the time (1974, that is). In short, she writes for a British audience of a certain day and age, which I clearly am not. Her point is to counterbalance the clichés and assumptions that were made at the time about the victim, the presumed murdered, and the events and come up with a new version, but I was totally unaware of the case!

There are pages in the book that seem off-topic, like the list of all the aristocrats ever tried for murder, or the ancestors of Lord Lucan and their behaviors during the 18th and 19th century. But when she finally gets to the topic itself, I got fascinated by this peculiar milieu and their life during the 1960s-1970s, an era that I haven’t lived myself. The author went on and on about the gambling circles of that period and what the atmosphere must have been like, and tried with some success to underline the difference between the truth and the myth around it, because as soon as you write down that Lord Lucan was a professional gambler, he came out as a degenerate sinner once and for all.

The writer repeats several times that Lord Lucan was badly judged by the media and the public because he was an aristocrat, and therefore prejudiced against. I am not British, but it seems to me that Lord Lucan was both an object of fascination and hatred, and that Brits do have a complex relationship to aristocracy, to say the least. We may say that we French people have a complex relationship to our own aristocrats too, but there are relatively few left, since our complex relationship led us to kill a good number of them during revolutions (just kidding).

Anyway, I sort of muddled through the book. I didn’t quit, but it could have been a much more pleasant experience if the structure was more straightforward and a lot tighter. The part I loved best was about trying to make sense of what went between Lord and Lady Lucan, beyond the myth and the clichés, to discover a destructive and obsessive relationship. Lord Lucan was probably less guilty than what the tabloids made him to be, and Lady Lucan is certainly no innocent angel either.

I’m a newbie in the true crime genre, and I have been wanting to read more, although this one is probably not the best to start with. What other true crime books would you recommend?

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5 thoughts on “The One with the Fall of a Decadent Aristocrat

  1. I saw a documentary about this – and of course it’s almost become a figure of speech in English, to ‘disappear like Lord Lucan’. But yes, I can imagine it’s not easy to read if you are not familiar with the case. I don’t usually read much True Crime, but I think Helen Garner is a good author to investigate if you want to read more of those kind of stories.

  2. I never read true crime and can recommend nothing, but I believe there is an offshoot podcast to a pop culture podcast I listen to where they exclusively talk about true crime? It’s called The Blotter Presents, but it may be only for true crime TV/movies. Meanwhile, have you read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? It’s true crime if you squint! :p

  3. Too bad the author didn’t do a better job writing for a non-British audience!

    I would wholeheartedly recommend In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It’s pretty much the only true crime novel I’ve read, but it’s amazing.

    • It’s been a long time on my TBR list but somehow I never find it at the library, and I never think of buying it… It’s such a classic I’m a bit intimidated to be honest.

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