Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mystery Book Review: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
Henry Holt (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-8050-8098-8 (0805080988)
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8098-8 (9780805080988)
Publication Date: September 2006
List Price: $26.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): In this ingenious, suspenseful historical thriller, Sigmund Freud is drawn into the mind of a sadistic killer who is savagely attacking Manhattan’s wealthiest heiresses.

Inspired by Sigmund Freud’s only visit to America, The Interpretation of Murder is an intricate tale of murder and the mind’s most dangerous mysteries. It unfurls on a sweltering August evening in 1909 as Freud disembarks from the steamship George Washington, accompanied by Carl Jung, his rival and protégé. Across town, in an opulent apartment high above the city, a stunning young woman is found dangling from a chandelier—whipped, mutilated, and strangled. The next day, a second beauty—a rebellious heiress who scorns both high society and her less adventurous parents—barely escapes the killer. Yet Nora Acton, suffering from hysteria, can recall nothing of her attack. Asked to help her, Dr. Stratham Younger, America’s most committed Freudian analyst, calls in his idol, the Master himself, to guide him through the challenges of analyzing this high-spirited young woman whose family past has been as complicated as his own.

The Interpretation of Murder leads readers from the salons of Gramercy Park, through secret passages, to Chinatown—even far below the currents of the East River where laborers are building the Manhattan Bridge. As Freud fends off a mysterious conspiracy to destroy him, Younger is drawn into an equally thrilling adventure that takes him deep into the subterfuges of the human mind.

Review: Sigmund Freud's pioneering work on psychoanalysis, William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the aristrocracy of New York in the early 20th century, and the construction of the Manhattan Bridge are all key elements of Jed Rubenfeld's well plotted though curiously rather languid murder mystery, The Interpretation of Murder.

Freud actually plays a minor role in The Interpretation of Murder. The investigation of the murder and attempted murder of two wealthy young women in New York City is conducted by two principal characters in the book: Dr. Stratham Younger, a Freudian adherent, and Detective Jimmy Littlemore of the police department. Younger analyzes the actions, motives, relationships, and personalities of all those involved in the crimes while Littlemore methodically and energetically hypothesizes on what might have happened and sets out to determine if it could, or did, happen. The juxtaposition of the two approaches works well in The Interpretation of Murder, lending credibility to the sometimes implausible.

The historical elements of The Interpretation of Murder both add to, and detract from, the story. It is interesting to see how Younger incorporates both the theories of Freud and the writing of Shakespeare into his investigation, but much of the academic debate regarding Freud, Carl Yung, and the Triumvirate is completely irrelevant to the mystery.

Rubenfeld oddly chose to write Younger's role in first person narrative, using third person point of view for the rest of the book. With at least two principal characters, this method doesn't work well. Rubenfeld illustrates how ill-considered this literary approach was by inexplicably writing a pivotal chapter near the end of the book that includes Younger but is written in third person. Based on this chapter alone, it is highly likely that had the entire book been written in third person, the result would have been significantly better.

The Interpretation of Murder is a cleverly devised murder mystery and Rubenfeld is clearly a talented writer. But flaws in style and editing prevent it from being a memorable novel of suspense fiction.

Special thanks to FSB Associates for providing an ARC of The Interpretation of Murder for this review.

Review Copyright © 2006 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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