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Book Review: Dead Lucky: Lord Lucan: The Final Truth

Everybody knows the story of Lord Lucan, but for those who don’t Dead Lucky recounts the story in its opening chapters. In 1974 the gambling-addicted aristocrat snuck into the home he had latterly shared with his family in plush Belgravia to lay in wait for the anticipated arrival of his estranged wife, Lady Lucan.

Virtually bankrupt from his gambling debts, Lucan was keen to regain ownership of the family home; he was also mightily angered at having lost a recent custody battle for his three young children. Should his waif-like wife disappear these issues would thus be immediately resolved. Armed with a lead pipe in the best traditions of Cluedo, the errant earl waited in the basement.

But it was the couple’s nanny who encountered the earl and his pipe that night with fatal consequences. ‘Lucky’ Lucan’s luck had finally run out. So too had that of Sandra Rivett, the 29-year-old nanny whom Lucan bludgeoned to death in a ghastly case of mistaken identity. Lucan fled the scene. Did he commit suicide or, assisted by his aristocratic circle, did he assume a new identity in some exotic faraway place safe from the law?

Blimey, I’ve read a few lightweight books in my time but rarely have I ever encountered one quite as light as Dead Lucky. Written by a former detective this is a book whose premise is so fragile that it threatens to unravel on every page: a former drug pusher took some photographs of an old hippie while on the run in Goa, informing the cop that he believed the hippie to be Lord Lucan.

Upon seeing the images, the author, Duncan MacLaughlin, is convinced the man is none other than Lucan. Although to my eyes there is nothing remotely similar between the physical appearances of the two men, time notwithstanding, like an excitable puppy MacLaughlin sets off to Goa along with the former drug pusher. Here he grasps just about any straw he can find, anything to prove his thesis.

Once in India, cop and crim uncover a story about . . . nothing much in particular. The man photographed by the pusher was an eccentric English hippy named Barry Halpin. According to MacLaughlin, Barry was in fact the assumed name of Lucan. Did he not also enjoy backgammon like the earl? When the natives inform him that ‘Barry’ had an air of regality and a German girlfriend (Lucan spoke German . . .) the author’s excitement reaches fever pitch.

It’s not just the desperation of the author that makes this book a hard read although there is a certain comic value to be had from these delusions. No, it’s the cockney-geezer Frank Butcher style of writing replete with just about every cliché known to mankind that really starts to grate. Added to which the author’s boasts about his police career also test the patience after a while. According to MacLaughlin, he was the Met’s greatest ever detective.

Certainly, the diversions into the author’s police training and career are an ominous signal that suggests the material is a touch on the thin side. Indeed, when we are also treated to a biographical feature of the drug pusher it’s difficult not to conclude that there’s some serious padding going on here. Is there a story to actually tell? Not sure, but 150 pages in and the book is still stuck in first gear.

The problem with this book is that there is no story to tell, not really. Despite the author being unable to locate a birth certificate (In Ireland or England) Barry Halpin was likely a real life drop-out. The clues are abundant: not a single person who knew the hippie suspected a link to Lucan despite the stranger having arrived in 1975 and his subsequent reluctance to speak of his wife and children he left behind. And those pictures . . . they could depict just about any middle-aged male drop-out there has ever been.

Nowhere to go, Dead Lucky becomes more of a rough guide to Goa, a description of its people and places. As an investigation into ex-pat life in this part of the world, no doubt there could some useful insights. Lucan books do tend to sell so MacLaughlin can’t be blamed for jumping on that particular bandwagon.

As for me, frustrated by the meandering and playing-for-time tactics I found myself skipping large chunks, so perhaps I missed some gems. But I seriously doubt it. As a study in confirmation bias this might have some merit, but that apart this is a book doomed by its own absurdities.