Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Gamblers by John Pearson

The disappearance of Lord Lucan reminds me of that odd era when Britain faced power cuts, glam rock ruled the charts and retired Colonels drilled their private armies to be ready when the balloon went up.

Lucan, if you don't know the story, had planned to murder his wife, only to murder his children's nanny instead. (In this telling of the story, as in every other, the nanny Sandra Rivett receives little consideration.) He then disappeared, and sightings of him are reported every now and then even today.

John Pearson's idea of how Lucan hoped to get away with the "perfect murder" of his wife is convincing: his account of what may have happened to him is less so. Or rather, though it is a plausible narrative, there is precious little evidence to support it.

But the book is equally memorable for its first two-thirds, which tell us about the London gambling circle in which Lucan moved. Its big characters - John Aspinall, James Goldsmith and Lucan himself - are well drawn; Aspinall emerges as a thoroughly evil man.

What was most damaging though was the absurd ethic to which they all subscribed: a gentleman was someone who would gamble everything, lose and act as though nothing had happened. I am reminded of the equally destructive idea of the alienated romantic artist.

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