TBR Challenge: “The Interpretation Of Murder” By Jed Rubenfeld

21 Oct

tbr-challenge-2009

Info: TBR Challenge 2009

Theme for the month: horror
In my TBR pile since: January 2007

Rubenfeld, Jed - Interpretation of Murder

Genre: thriller
Published: Headline Review, 2007 (2006)

Availability: still available

Monthly theme?: No, except if you want to count how bad a lot of the characters in this novel are…

Why I bought this novel: I thought the blurb and the play with history it promised interesting.

Manhattan, 1909.

On the morning after Sigmund Freud arrives in New York on his first – and only – visit to the United States, a stunning debutante is found bound and strangled in her penthouse apartment, high above Broadway. The following night, another beautiful heiress, Nora Acton, is discovered tied to a chandelier in her parents’ home, viciously wounded and unable to speak or to recall her ordeal. Soon Freud and his American disciple, Stratham Younger, are enlisted to help Miss Acton recover her memory, and to piece together the killer’s identity. It is a riddle that will test their skills to the limit, and lead them on a thrilling journey – into the darkest places of the city, and of the human mind.

I’m not much into mysteries/crime novels/thrillers. I think it’s because I’m more drawn to internal conflict than external conflict and – rightly or wrongly – I see mysteries as being mostly about external conflict. But now and then I read a blurb and think “this might work for me.” That’s how I ended up with The Interpretation of Murder. I also liked the fact that it plays with history, that some of the story’s characters are based on people who really lived.

The Interpretation of Murder is narrated by two narrators. First, there is the first person narrator Stratham Younger. He’s a physician and a Freudian although he has his problems with the Oedipus complex. He teaches at Clark university and meets Freud as a representative of Clark university. Younger is rather young, in awe of Freud, had (still has) problems with his recently deceased father, and is looking for the solution to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in particular Hamlet’s soliloquy that begins “To be or not to be…”. The second narrator is an omniscient narrator. This narrator lets the reader be part of the murder investigation, led by coroner Hugel and Detective Littlemore, and all kinds of other sub-plots.

In the beginning, I thought the many characters offered a kaleidoscopic view on the events. It was like a big puzzle and with each character you would get a new piece of it. There were twist and turns and they certainly made the novel seem fast-paced.

But soon, this started to get too much. There were more and more characters, the plots multiplied, and the twists and turns turned more fanciful. There was the main plot, trying to solve the murder. This was linked to Younger who tried to recover Nora’s memory. Then there was the plot to discredit Freud and his theory, Jung, who accompanied Freud, acted strange and stranger, and red herrings appeared left and right. All this was served with Younger’s thoughts on Freud’s Oedipus complex and Hamlet’s “To be” soliloquy and passages about New York’s buildings and society. What started as a story that tried to find a murderer with different means, police investigation and psychoanalysis, very soon turned into a story that relied mostly on action (I actually could picture some of its scene in a movie).

Freud’s psychoanalytic theories were more a gimmick than a real means to solve the murder. Psychoanalysis helped explain what motivated the murderer but that was nearly all the role it played. What’s more, Freud was a mere gimmick. His involvement in the case was practically nil, he as good as disappeared for long passages in the later part of the novel (when the action starts) and if this story wanted to give an answer to why Freud so strongly disliked America, I’m not really sure what it is.

In general, the characters were rather one-dimensional and the constant shift of focus, and focusing on some characters only late in the story, didn’t help to make me care or draw me in. Sadly, the mystery couldn’t make up for my lack of investment. The longer the story progressed, the more convoluted it all became, leading up to a resolution that, after all was said and done and characters were arrested, took two characters talking about it at length to convey what really had happened.

I liked the passages about New York. The research done there clearly shows. And although they sometimes sounded a bit textbook-like, I actually liked the psychoanalytical passages, Younger’s take on the Oedipus complex, and Younger’s thoughts about Hamlet. The novel is somewhat a page turner with all that is happening but overall, I think this story tried to do too much at the same time.

The things I liked should be the extra bonus in a story. In The Interpretation of Murder, they actually were the only things I thought (at least somewhat) interesting. The foundation, the story’s elements, were not developed enough to come together. Too many sub-plots, too many characters, too many shifts of focus, they all made the mystery even more convoluted than it already was on its own. Nobody and nothing is what he/she/it seems at first in this story (if you’re wondering, here’s the connection to Younger’s thoughts about Hamlet) just as Freud is not really part of this story, despite what the blurb leads one to believe.

Verdict: The longer I think about this novel, the worse my opinion gets. 3/5 for now, going for 2,5/5.

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4 Responses to “TBR Challenge: “The Interpretation Of Murder” By Jed Rubenfeld”

  1. Keishon Saturday, October 24, 2009 at 4:30 am #

    I’m not much into mysteries/crime novels/thrillers. I think it’s because I’m more drawn to internal conflict than external conflict and – rightly or wrongly – I see mysteries as being mostly about external conflict ////

    Well, yeah, that’s true, sometimes. Glad you at least tried a mystery. Reading different genres helps keeps things fresh for me. There are some mysteries that have a nice romantic subplot to them but I know that readers like to have a HEA and don’t care a lot for the violence.

    This book sounds interesting and I appreciate the review of what worked and didn’t.

  2. Taja Saturday, October 24, 2009 at 10:36 am #

    Keishon – thanks.

    It’s actually not the gore or that there’s not a guaranteed HEA if there’s a romantic subplot (there’s actually a – questionable – HEA in this novel), it’s more that I find the investigation itself…a bit boring perhaps. This evidence and this evidence and then… I don’t know. But reading different genres helps to keep things fresh, you’re right, and I don’t regret reading this novel although my review might sound that way. And there are mysteries I really enjoyed!

    The Interpretation of Murder has an interesting premise. The problem was that I found the execution lacking the more the story progressed. There are many others who think differently so chances are good that you’ll like it better than I if you should give it a try.

  3. Keishon Sunday, October 25, 2009 at 6:55 pm #

    it’s more that I find the investigation itself…a bit boring perhaps. ///

    That’s why I quit reading J.D. Robb’s In Death books, talk about boring investigative techniques and questions. In one book, I forget, Eve just was RELENTLESS to this one suspect, it drove me crazy. So, I know what you mean about boring investigations, etc. I hate them too so we’re on the same page about that for sure.

  4. Taja Monday, October 26, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    Keishon – I can’t say much about the In Death series because I only read the first one. I guess my expectations were too high because so many love this series.

    “So, I know what you mean about boring investigations, etc.” ///

    – It’s good to know that it’s not just me. A “A dead body was found – who did it?” plot and nothing more is usually not for me. Although it can work if I like the author’s writing style.

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