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A Double Life


A Double Life

On November 7, 1974, Richard Bingham, an English aristocrat, disappeared from his home in England. That same evening, his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, was found beaten to death. Bingham’s wife was also attacked and later identified her husband as her assailant. The case remains of interest to the British because he was not a common criminal, but rather was Lord Lucan, the 7th Earl of Lucan. He was an aristocrat known to be a gambler who raced power boats and drove an Aston Martin. When Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels transitioned to the movies, Bingham was considered for the role of the British spy.

Bingham’s marriage collapsed in the early 1970s. After losing a contentious custody battle with his wife involving their three children, he began spying on her. On the evening of the beating and murder, he contacted family members, borrowed a car and disappeared without leaving a trace. Evidence implicating him in the crime was found in the vehicle, and within days a warrant for his arrest was issued. In the intervening years, occasional sightings of the fugitive were made in countries around the world. He was never found and was declared dead in 2016.

"A DOUBLE LIFE doesn’t resort to street chases or physical violence; instead, the words, which are often compelling and poignant, tell the story."

Flynn Berry’s second novel, A DOUBLE LIFE, is a fictional account of the Lucan escapade as told by one of his children, Claire, who is now a doctor living in London whose life was altered by the murders occurring when she was a child. The differences in the actual and fictional events add to the narrative of the story and allow Claire’s character to be more fully portrayed. She last saw her father the weekend before the crime when she was eight years old and shared an ice cream with him. The memory of that final meeting still haunts her. Now, decades later, the police suggest that he might have been found. Locating him will not end her torment, though. Having changed her name, she will not disclose her true identity to her patients because some might not want her as their doctor.

The novel opens with an all-too-frequent event in Claire’s life. While out with her dog, she sees a man walking. Could it be her father? She stops as he stops and watches him light a cigarette. It’s not her father. In a very brief description that will be repeated throughout A DOUBLE LIFE, the reader gets a first glance into the suffering that accompanies crime. And the pain is multiplied by the inability to gain information about the still unknown events occurring decades ago. Claire cannot forget, and her father’s notoriety and society’s passion for gossip will not allow her to forget. She has become something of a sleuth, reading message boards and websites that discuss her father’s case. Occasionally she wonders if he might be innocent.

Each potential sighting of her father raises new questions. The novel shifts between contemporary events and recollecting past ones. Why did some of her father’s friends assist him in fleeing the police? Why do some continue to make her mother out to be a villain? A DOUBLE LIFE doesn’t resort to street chases or physical violence; instead, the words, which are often compelling and poignant, tell the story. The novel also moves to a conclusion that reminds readers that this is an account independent of the Lucan history. For some it might be satisfying, for others less so. Regardless of how one views the ending, this psychological thriller is a rewarding summer read.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on August 3, 2018

A Double Life
by Flynn Berry