A slow-burning, utterly satisfying suspense novel with an ending I never saw coming. Inspired by one of the most shocking true crimes in 20th century Britain: the Lord Lucan case.
A Double Life, the second novel by Flynn Berry was published in 2018 by Random House. This book resonated with me on so many levels—some of it personal—and I recommend it to readers who enjoy a story with a slow, steady build that quickly ramps up the action in the last few chapters. As I followed along, I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going at first. Sure, I understood the crime that had occurred years earlier and completely empathized with the protagonist and her motives, but I couldn’t quite figure out which way she was leaning—toward violence or lawful retribution—when finally confronted with her murderous father.
One of my favorite elements Flynn brought to the story was the setting. The protagonist, Claire, lives in London, however, spent a number of years living with her family in Crail, Scotland, a small town north of Edinburgh. And since I was born and raised in Edinburgh, I found that I could really connect with the story and enjoyed reading all the details she’d drop about certain places in the city I’ve personally visited. It felt like I got to experience a little piece of home and it made me feel melancholic in all the best ways.
Something else I enjoyed was how convincing the characters and their interactions were. Nothing felt improbable or forced, and the dialogue flowed naturally (something I’m sensitive to). There was also something so pleasing reading about normal, everyday things like her work schedule and her memory flitting back to the night of the crime, that when the action ramped up in the last few chapters I found it logical and nicely paced. Any illusions I may have shared with the protagonist were shattered when the very serious and real nature of her father was exposed, forcing her to make an unwanted snap decision for survival.
“A better person would forgive him. A different sort of better person would have found him years ago.”
Claire is a hardworking doctor leading a simple, quiet life in London. She is also the daughter of the most notorious murder suspect in the country, though no one knows it.
Nearly thirty years ago, while Claire and her brother slept upstairs, a brutal crime was committed in her family’s townhouse. The next morning, her father’s car was found abandoned near the English Channel, with bloodstains on the front seat. Her mother insisted she’d seen him in the house that night, but his powerful, privileged friends maintained his innocence. The first lord accused of murder in more than a century, he has been missing ever since.
When the police tell Claire they’ve found him, her carefully calibrated existence begins to fracture. She doesn’t know if she’s the daughter of a murderer or a wronged man, but Claire will soon learn how far she’ll go to finally find the truth.
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 recommend to readers who love fiction based on true crime, narrators with an unreliable edge, a slow-burning literary pace, and an interesting setting that often changes.
I love reading stories inspired by true crimes, and this one is no exception. For those of you unfamiliar with the Lord Lucan Case, in 1974 a British aristocrat named Richard John Bingham (or Lord Lucan) killed 29-year-old nanny, Sandra Rivett in the basement of his home before disappearing without a trace. He was formally charged with the murder a year later and was spotted more than 70 times by 2017, but none of the sightings ever held up under investigation. It didn’t help that the media (New York Times) painted him as somewhat of a suave James Bond type describing him as a “dashing British aristocrat and army officer, known for his prowess at backgammon and bridge and his fondness for vodka martinis, powerboats, and Aston Martin cars.”
The fact that the murder took place in the basement of a dark apartment, leaving lots of room for various theories helped cloud people’s judgment. And given that the lead suspect was nowhere to be found helped the most for writing the case up as nothing more than a horrible tragedy. Rumors began circulating not long after that he’d committed suicide by ferry propeller, started a new life in Africa, or was fed to a tiger. But none of them proved true and to this day, nobody knows where he is.
This story follows the facts of the actual case very closely but what makes it even more interesting is that it’s told from the perspective of the eldest child almost 30 years later. A smart, self-aware, successful young woman on the hunt for the man who ruined her and her family’s life. What will she do when she finds him? She’s not quite sure. But the bigger question is, what will he do?