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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


Anonymous said…
I so agree with your review on this one. I wish it were as good as The Alienist (one of my favorites). It went in the 'books that should've been better' category for me.
Anonymous said…
Sounds interesting! I'm going to have to keep my eyes open for it.
Amanda said…
Oh this still sounds good. I was going to add it to my TBR list and found it was already on it :)

The Alienist is a great book so that would be hard to live up to.

Liz said…
You have so very many interesting books on your site -- definitely some titles to put on my "reserve" list at the library. (It's how I feed my habit without bankrupting my family...)

May I recommend another work of historical fiction? It's "Bedlam South," beginning and ending in an insane asylum outside Richmond, Va. and interweaving the fates of the various characters within the panoramic view of the Civil War. (I can't help but think of "Gone With the Wind and those lush views at the train station...) This book will be published next month; I'm eagerly anticipating it.

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