The Interpretation of Murder
by Jed Rubenfeld
A review by Anna Godbersen
Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder has everything a historical thriller is supposed to have: a mysterious cabal, a predator with a taste for horse whips, and loads of cameos by famous people from a bygone era. Sadly, Rubenfeld's book also suffers from the common pitfalls of the genre: stuffy dialogue and a tendency towards undergraduate-style enthusiasm for historical trivia.
In The Interpretation of Murder, Freud is the historical figure who is featured, and his presence signals the psychological darkness of Rubenfeld's novel, if not its psychological depth. Freud arrives in New York in 1909, on what will turn out to be his only trip to America, and is accompanied around the city by a troupe of fawning protégés. He is not much of a character and has little to do -- appearing primarily to provide clues in an unfolding mystery while wielding a cigar.
After the brutal murder of one society beauty, and the nighttime attack of another, Freud assigns Stratham Younger, one of his followers, to psychoanalyze the living victim, a neurotic Barnard girl. Meanwhile, Rubenfeld peeks into other nefarious doings about the city, accompanied by dry lectures on everything from bridge construction to Shakespeare. (Like this passage about Hamlet: "The play consists of a series of evasions and excuses seized on by the melancholy Hamlet to justify postponing his revenge on his father's murderer...")
All the elements are here for a grand tale: the era of arrogant, grossly rich titans, the hovering presence of the man who cracked humankind's subconscious, and murder. Rubenfeld's novel is neatly structured, with slow reveals and cinematic twists, including trap doors and faked deaths. It might make a fine movie someday, but as a book it will leave readers cold.
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