“Loosely inspired by one of the most notorious unsolved crimes of the 20th century – the Lord Lucan case – A Double Life is at once a riveting page-turner and a moving reflection on women and violence, trauma and memory, and class and privilege.”
I read Flynn Berry’s debut novel, “Under the harrow” two years ago and was anxious to read more of he work ever since.
Inspired by actual events, “A Double Life” was an interesting read. Our protagonist, Lydia Spenser, is the daughter of an infamous British Lord accused of murder.
When she was just eight years old, her live-in nanny, Emma, was murdered in the kitchen of their home in Belgravia, London. The same night, her mother was gravely injured in a vicious attack. All this took place while Lydia and her baby brother Robbie were in the house. Her father and mother (Colin and Faye Spenser) were separated at the time, and her mother testified that it was her father that was in the house that night who perpetrated the crime. He vanished, and was never caught.
He had many wealthy connections and family friends. It was suspected that he had help getting away that night. It was because of his wealth and renown that this case of domestic violence sparked so much interest by the media and the general public.
Following this event, she, her mother, and baby brother changed their names and moved to Scotland. Lydia Spenser is now Claire Alden.
The lingering trauma has followed Lydia/Claire throughout her life. She now works as a medical doctor, yet she remains fearful of her father – even after twenty-six years have passed. Though he was only a baby at the time of the attack, Robbie too has been affected. He is now addicted to pain-killers after suffering a knee injury. Claire worries about him constantly. After medical school in Edinburgh, she moved to London in the hopes that she might learn the whereabouts of her father.
The aftermath of the crime which happened almost three decades previously continues…
“I don’t go abroad often. My father has ruined foreign travel for me. I spend the entire time wondering if he lives there.”
When, quite by chance, Claire encounters the daughter of one of her father’s old friends, she befriends her in the hope that she will learn more about her father’s whereabouts. She visits her new friend’s Palladian mansion, which Claire stayed at frequently as a child. She hopes to discover some clue about her father from his friend’s home – the last place he was seen before his disappearance.
Filled with anger and resentment about her family misfortune, Claire puts her moral compass aside in her search for the truth. She wonders if she ever really ‘knew’ her father. She wonders at the motive behind the murder.
“I need to know who he is. A good man who did a bad thing. A bad man who’s done more bad things.”
Although this novel was very interesting, I really struggled with it at first. The name changes, coupled with the shifting timelines confused me.
By the time I became used to the flow of the narrative, my enjoyment increased and by the time I reached the last third of the novel I couldn’t put it down. I enjoyed the writing, and the story was compelling. Although it had some elements of a thriller, I wouldn’t really classify it as one… Overall, an absorbing read with a plot whammy near the end that surprised me. Recommended.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Viking (via Edelweiss) for review purposes.
Flynn Berry is an American novelist. She is a graduate of the Michener Center and has been awarded a Yaddo residency. She graduated from Brown University.