Muriel Spark, a prolific Scottish writer, critic and satirist, is probably best-known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), a controversial novel which also became an acclaimed film. Spark's fiction is characterized by the use of certain techniques which give her often short novels a feeling of complexity and depth. Her new novel, Aiding and Abetting, is true to form short in length and long on style. In this quirky tale of murder, blackmail and false identities, Spark widens the book's scope by using an omniscient third-person narrator and unexpected time and place shifts. These techniques, coupled with her witty, understated way of revealing unusual events, makes Aiding and Abetting a delightfully strange and surprising tale. The inspiring "spark" for this story was a real-life upper-class crime story that caused a sensation in the British press. As Spark tells us in her opening Note to Readers, the real-life seventh Earl of Lucan disappeared in 1974 when he fled from charges of murder (oops he killed his children's nanny by mistake, thinking she was his wife) and attempted murder (oops again he tried once more to kill his wife but she survived his attack). Aiding and Abetting is a fiction, a fabrication of Lucan's life on the lam more of a whimsical "where'd he go?" than a hard-boiled "whodunit." Still, there is plenty to keep us guessing. Spark keeps the "who?" question alive throughout much of the story by having two nearly identical "Lucans" surface, each claiming to be the genuine article and each claiming patient-doctor privilege in his relationship with the psychiatrist, Hildegard Wolf, an alluring, enigmatic, former fake stigmatic from Bavaria. These three less-than-honorable characters play cat and mouse games from start to finish. In the hands of a less-venturous novelist, they would probably provide enough entertaining, problematic entanglements by themselves, but Spark (now in her 80s) is not one to shy from a twist or a complication she'll throw a new character into the fray or pull one out of the past on a moment's notice keeping your wheels spinning. Aiding and Abetting may be unconventional in structure, it may break some rules, but you will find the pages turning quickly as you try to puzzle out this Rubik's Cube of a novel.
Linda Stankard is a writer/actor living in Middle Tennessee who has broken a few rules herself, though with less literary acclaim.