CENTURY £17.99 £16.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

The Gamblers, by John Pearson

What on earth was 'Lucky' about Lucan?

Author of The Profession of Violence: the rise and fall of the Kray Twins, he exposes another chillingly amoral world in this book. During the 1950s, Aspinall plied a meagre trade behind London's Oxford Street as an illicit backstreet bookie. Yet, within a decade, he had moved over to Mayfair to found the most exclusive - and profitable - gaming rooms in Europe. The leap in Aspinall's status lies in the Clermont Club's membership, the most valued members being the British aristocracy, preferably rich and so addicted to gambling that, like the trustee Ian Maxwell Scott, they could take a bet on two drops of rain running down a window pane. Aspinall knew how to coax and flatter the gentry and, more importantly, he provided the sort of surroundings at 44 Berkeley Square where the descendants of Regency gamblers could enjoy themselves in a world that they thought they had lost.

The Clermont wasn't merely a nostalgic setting in which to fleece the idle rich. Among its members were such cold-eyed cardsharps as Jimmy Goldsmith, a club co-founder, billionaire "casino capitalist" and world-class backgammon player, and Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat who took £200,000 off the Earl of Derby in a single night of chemin de fer. Aspinall himself had a natural affinity for gambling. Not only did he have prodigious powers of concentration, he possessed nerves of steel and a precisely calibrated sense of risk. Aside from gaming skills, though, there is a distinct dividing line between those who gamble and those who live off gamblers.

Through the 1960s, Aspinall, Goldsmith and the other owners of the Clermont acted as Pied Pipers of gambling. And, in order to encourage gullible punters to keep trying their luck, the club hedged its bets. It employed "House" players, usually old Etonians paid £10 a week, to ply the upper-class clientèle with drink and keep them playing until they were totally cleaned out. One of the heaviest losers was "Lucky" Lord Lucan, a dim reactionary whose favourite reading in the early hours after retiring from the tables was Hitler's Mein Kampf.

His skewed value system and hypocritical sense of "fair play" gave Lucan an instant affinity with the Clermont Set. At the point of the drunken peer's introduction, two-thirds of the way into Pearson's riveting book, it has to be admitted that one wants to be rid of this overbearing, disdainful cast of characters. But Pearson cleverly switches from a group biography into a murder mystery and, because he concentrates on Lucan's disappearance, rather than the more well-known facts about the killing of the nanny in the Belgravia basement, he entices the reader into a whodunnit. The gripping depiction of this amoral hierarchy sets John Pearson's book apart from others on the Lucan case.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world