Tag Archives: mystery

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

21 Oct


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.

Dennis Lehane – “Gone, Baby, Gone”

26 Aug

GENRE: Mystery / Private Investigator
PUBLISHED: Harper, 2007 (1998)

WHY THIS NOVEL: I liked Shutter Island and wanted to read another novel by Lehane + this was on sale for a bargain price

The back blurb:
The tough neighborhood of Dorchester is no place for the innocent or the weak. A territory defined by hard heds and even harder luck, its streets are littered with the detritus of broken families, hearts, dreams. Now, one of its youngest is missing. Private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro don’t want the case. But after pleas from the child’s aunt, they open an investigation that will ultimately risk everything – their relationship, their sanity, and even their lives – to find a little girl lost.”

I found it a bit difficult to write about this novel. First, it’s the fourth novel with PI Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro and I didn’t read the ones before; and second, I don’t read a lot of PI novels (or mystery in general) so I don’t know how it compares. What I can say is that I think it’s a good written novel, I liked the dialogue and police bits and although it’s clear that all characters are good at what they do, it’s not sure if they can find the girl. It’s a gritty novel that’s not afraid to show the dark side of things. It’s also a novel told in first person by Patrick Kenzie (worked rather well, I thought) and it’s a novel I skimmed paragraphs.

The story begins “innocently” enough – a child is missing. But soon it turns into something more, it’s a kidnapping, it’s a power struggle in a criminal organization, there are drugs involved and all kinds of other things come into play. The missing child seems just a coincidence and not really connected with what follows. All and everything seems a dead end, so in that way the story is all over the place. Patrick and Angela (and the police) don’t know what to make of it. All they know for certain is: “The missing girl remains missing or at the bottom of a quarry.” A few months later, it’s just Angela who’s still looking for something they missed. And in April the next year, another child is missing, and although it is not really related to the first missing child, this case leads Patrick on the right track and all the dead ends come together.

Gone, Baby, Gone is a story about moral ambiguity and Lehane writes about a subject that gives a sickening look into human nature: child abduction and all it’s implications. Lehane doesn’t shy away from the ugliness there and sometimes, it’s not easy to read. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s also too clear that it’s a subject that’s important to Lehane and that he has a point to make because it’s then I thought the story a bit plodding and heavy-handed. But Lehane’s point leads to a really gut-wrenching end and demands an answer to the question “What is the right thing to do?” In this story, there are two answers and for Patrick and Angela, answering the question means life is no longer what it was before they took the case. I don’t know if the way they answer is in keeping with the characterization established in the other novels but it worked for the point Lehane wanted to make.

I wondered about two things that happened: one is related to the final twist that puts Patrick and Angela on the right track but it happens right at the start of the novel. When I read it, it was a huh?-moment and niggled at me all through the story. The other one is something the one who’s behind it all does and it’s what gets him arrested in the end. That one I just thought a silly and unbelievable move. But again, great for the point Lehane wants to make.

On the whole, I thought Gone, Baby, Gone could have been written a little bit tighter. There are a few parts that seemed slightly unnecessary, for example the thing that needs to happen so that Patrick gets his clue, and the focus on getting a point across was too strong for my tastes. But there also were a few intriguing references to other cases, Kenzie’s and Gennaro’s relationship seems interesting, I liked Lehane’s way to write and that he isn’t afraid to show “grittiness,” so I’ll probably read one of the other Kenzie/Gennaro novels.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Probably not.

Grade: 4 – / 5

Recent Reads 1

26 Apr
  • Lee Child – Bad Luck and Trouble
  • Jane Heller – Infernal Affairs
  • Karen Rose – Count to Ten

Lee Child – Bad Luck and Trouble

Genre: Mystery / Thriller

I got this one at the airport in Glasgow. I wanted to buy a book, this was on sale, and I wanted to read something by Child for some time (having heard good things about his Jack Reacher novels), so I bought it.
This novel struck me as a very “male” novel. Jack Reacher seems to be the embodiment of the loner, no-strings-attached male. I know this is part of a series, so I don’t know how this novel fits in with the others. But here, only with a lot of goodwill (and a looking glass) can I say there’s character development. I appreciated how the plot unfolds and how everything seemed to be thought out (from my complete cluelessness about a lot of things described in the story, at least). But ultimately, I thought it a very cold novel, completely ruled by logic (see the no-character-development sense I had) with a mystery that wasn’t “good” and interesting enough to make me go “wow.” I’m pretty sure I won’t read another Jack Reacher novel.

Grade: 3,5 / 5

Jane Heller – Infernal Affairs

Genre: Contemporary fiction / Humorous

I read about this novels somewhere in a comments thread. It sounded interesting, and after reading an excerpt on Heller’s homepage, I decided to order it. What I liked about the excerpt – the humorous way it is written – is there in the novel, but unfortunately there is also the kind of humour I don’t like and which I have trouble to describe. It’s some kind of slapstick, sitcom humour that strikes me as goofy for the sake of humour and not naturally following from the situation; it tries too hard and turns into silly and dumb; IMO. For me, this was best exemplified by the scene where Barbara with the help of someone else tries to exorcize the devil and they have to substitute a lot of the things needed for the exorcism because they couldn’t get the right things. Some people find these kind of situations hilarious and laugh-out-loud funny, but for me they don’t work and make me snort in a “oh yeah” kind of way. So, even though IA was a mixed bag for me and some things didn’t work for me, I think Jane Heller is a good writer and I’m not sorry I had ordered another one of her novels along with IA.

Grade: 4- / 5

Karen Rose – Count to Ten

Genre: Romantic Suspense

The main theme of CTT is the nature/nurture question. Nearly all characters have a background which displays one aspect of this question. With so much parts in play, I thought it a bit disappointing that they weren’t used for a closer look at this question. This theme stays on the surface only.
Generally speaking, CTT didn’t grab me like the last novel I read by Rose. That’s not to say CTT is bad, it’s just that I wasn’t as into it. Both the crime and romance part are okay, although I have to admit that I had trouble – again – believing the way a) the characters go from no-strings-attached to commitment and b) the escalation of the crime part in just a few days. When will I get it into my head that that’s part of the romantic suspense package? Also, reading this novel – and I know saying that it annoyed me makes me look out-of-my-head – I got the impression that the main characters had hardly any sleep at all for the whole story. Maybe because it somehow see this being in action around the clock also as hard to believe (I like my sleep) and implying how hot and important the characters are. Don’t know. These points are completely subjective and just my nitpicking buttons.
One last thing: what is it with female journalists (and lawyers?) who’re nearly always bitchy, ready to do anything to get a good story, and/or incompetent in Rose’s novels?

Grade: 4- / 5

Val McDermid – "The Grave Tattoo"

12 Feb

GENRE: Mystery
PUBLISHED: Harper, 2007

The back blurb:
“It’s summer in the Lake District and heavy rain over the fells has uncovered a bizzarely tattooed body. Could it be linked to the old rumour that Fletcher Christian, mutinous first mate on the Bounty, had secretly returned to England?
Scholar Jane Gresham wants to find out. She believes that the Lakeland poet William Wordsworth, a friend of Christian’s, may have sheltered the fugitive and turned his tale into an epic poem – which has since disappeared. But as she follows each lead, death is hard on her heels. The centuries-old mystery is putting lives at risk. And it isn’t just the truth that is waiting to be discovered, but a bounty worth millions …”

It took me over a week to read this novel. It was easy to put down and there was nothing that urged me to pick it up again except that I have this thing about finishing books. While reading it, I had my couple of eye-rolling and snorting moments. That’s mostly because you can see things coming from a mile away and because (some) characters are doing things for plot reasons not character reasons (a young girl especially, IMO).

The novel is off to a slow start. It’s in chapter 14 (page 158) that Jane starts to look through the Wordsworth archive for more clues. I thought this a bit late considering that I got this novel because it seemed to be an academic mystery (think A. S. Byatt’s Possession). My fault, there is not much of this here.

So, I dunno. Considering that I’m not much into the crime stuff, I can’t compare it to a lot of other novels. I only can say, a romance with this kind of “problems” would make me think about a grade 2 / 5. But this? There’s nothing overtly wrong with this novel. It might very well be that this is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. So, I dunno.

Would I recommend this novel? Very probably not.

Would I read this novel again? No.

Grade:3 / 5