Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Review: The Interpretation of Murder, by Jed Rubenfeld
In 1909, Sigmund Freud paid his one and only visit to the US, when he went to accept an honorary award from Clark University. On his way to Massachusetts, he stopped briefly in New York. But not much is known about the visit, or why Freud vowed never to return. In this novel, Jed Rubenfeld tries to fill in the gaps.
Accompanying Freud is Dr. Karl Jung; waiting at the pier in New York to greet them is Dr. Strathan Younger, a young doctor loosely connected with the wealthy elite of New York City.
On the day after Freud’s arrival, a young woman is found murdered in a penthouse uptown. Later, another young woman, Nora Acton, is attacked, but she can remember nothing of the attack or her attacker. Freud uses his psychoanalytic powers to help solve the crime, with Dr. Younger at his side. Similar in scope to Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, The Interpretation of Murder focuses on the upper stratum of New York society, whereas The Alienist focuses on the poor and the seediest underbelly of New York crime.
Rubenfeld’s descriptions of early 20th century New York are fascinating—I was especially struck by his descriptions of the subway system, so different today from what it was 100 years ago (believe it or not, the stations actually had chandeliers in them!). Also intriguing are the descriptions of how the Manhattan Bridge was built. It’s clear that Rubenfeld has done his historical research. The murder is intriguing and the way the crime is solved is ingenious. But Dr. Younger isn’t a very intriguing narrator; at least, not as interesting as The Alienist’s John Schuyler Moore. As with all first novels, the book is clunky in some places, especially the ending—the denouement is more of a tell-all than a show-all.
Also review by: Obsessed With Books