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“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 
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Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Colonel Mustard’s Return?

I have always loved the tone, quality and entertainment value of readers’ letters to The Times (“of London”). It was sort of a dream come true for me nearly a year ago when a letter of mine was actually printed in that newspaper—though it was “only” in the paper’s Irish edition. (In case you’re wondering, I was exhorting readers to sample as many diverse news sources as possible—even ones they might disagree with—in the interest of avoiding information blind spots.)

I didn’t actually sit down and write the letter on a piece of paper and then drop it in a mailbox. It was originally a comment on an article on the Times web site, and an editor contacted me to verify my identity and to ask for permission to use it in the print edition. I don’t know if anybody actually writes letters to the editor on paper anymore. My guess is it’s all electronic now.

There was a good example yesterday of a classic Times reader’s letter or, rather, comment. It was beneath an article about new information on an old murder case suggesting the crime did not happen spontaneously but, in the words of an investigator, “it makes me think the whole thing was pre-planned.”

The most highly rated comment (with 114 recommendations as of this writing) on the article: “Isn’t planning pre-planning?” Say what you want about Times readers, but they care about the language.

You may wonder why am I am taking up space with all this on my book blog. It’s because the presumed murderer in the article was a certain Lord Lucan. He has been an object of fascination for the UK (and by extension the Irish) media since he vanished without a trace in 1974. This was immediately after his wife and his children’s nanny were attacked with a lead pipe. The wife survived, but the nanny, who was attacked first in a basement kitchen, died.

The newly revealed information is that three Cluedo game cards were subsequently found in a Ford Corsair that Lord Lucan had borrowed and which was found abandoned at Newhaven in East Sussex, suggesting he may have taken his life by leaping into the sea. The cards matched ones missing from a set owned by the lord. Which cards were they? Colonel Mustard, the lead pipe and the hall. Like Lord Lucan, the fictional Colonel Mustard is a former military man with a mustache. How very Agatha Christie.

The article further reveals that subsequently a woman insisted to police that she later met Lord Lucan at a party at a villa in the Algarve in Portugal. Today’s Irish Independent (like The Times, drawing from original reporting from The Daily Mail) informs us that a facial recognition expert, using AI photo analysis, has made what he claims is a 100-percent match between photographs of Lord Lucan and an 87-year-old pensioner in Australia. If they’re not the same man, says Professor Ugail, then they’re certainly identical twins.

On the other hand, my own neighbor here thinks I solved the mystery five years ago with the release of Lautaro’s Spear. His first comment after reading the book was that “you should have never killed off the other fella.” (He never forgave me for the demise of his favorite character from Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead.) His second comment was, “We finally know what happened to Lord Lucan.”

The name of the infamous lord (born Richard John Bingham) never appears in Lautaro’s Spear, but in Chapter 3 Dallas Green and his friend Linda go to a restaurant called Balthazar’s in San Francisco where their waiter is a dapper Englishman named Richard. Later in Chapter 13 Dallas has a chat with Marty, the mysterious proprietor of a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in the Mission District. Dallas is taken aback when Marty brings up Balthazar’s.
  “You would be surprised at the interesting stories lots of ordinary-seeming people have in their pasts. Here’s an interesting one. You ever been in a restaurant near Union Square called Balthazar’s?”
  “Yeah…” I said suspiciously.
  This was a perfect example of the weirdness that went through my conversations with Marty. Balthazar’s was the only restaurant in that area I had ever been in. What were the odds of that?
  “There’s a waiter there. His name is Richard. He’s an English guy.”
  “Yeah, he waited on a friend and me.”
  “You don’t say? Well, don’t tell anyone where you heard it, but that guy is a murderer.”
  “You’re joking, right?”
  “It’s true. I swear it.”
  “If you know this for sure, shouldn’t you tell the police or somebody?”
  “Nah, there’s no need for that. He only killed one time, and he won’t ever do it again. He was a British lord back in England—and a professional gambler—but things just didn’t go well for him. He was separated from his wife and children. One night he slipped back into the house and killed the nanny. Beat her to death with a lead pipe. Poor girl wasn’t even supposed to be working that night. Not sure if he mistook her for the wife or if she just got between him and the kids. Anyway, he took off and no one has heard of him since.”
My guess is that this exchange, which has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the book’s narrative (other than to establish Marty as a man with unusual connections and mysterious sources of information), went right over the heads of most readers. It would take someone, like my neighbor, who would be the right age and who lives on this side of the Atlantic to pick up on that reference. I believe this is what is known as an Easter egg.

Speaking holidays, it’s only 48 more shopping days until Christmas, so it behooves me to point out all the links on this page that will lead you to places to buy all kinds of great holiday gifts, including not only Lautaro’s Spear but also the other Dallas Green books as well as The Three Towers of Afranor, The Curse of Septimus Bridge and my newest tome, Last of Tuath Dé.

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