Thursday, March 15, 2007


The fact that I have taken a long time to read The Interpretation of Murder is not a reflection on the book. I am so busy with family committments and other tasks, and I wonder constantly how did I manage when I was working!

Jed Rubenfeld's melodrama set in the New York of 1909 is a really good read on several levels. He produces a clever mix of real life characters and events and melds them with fictional characters in a puzzling complex mystery.

Elizabeth Riverford, a beautiful young debutante, is found in her penthouse apartment at the Balmoral bound and strangled. The city coroner Charles Hugel is put in charge of the investigation by the Mayor George Brinton McClellan junior. [McClellan is the son of the civil war general]
The next night Nora Acton, another beautiful young girl, is found tied to a chandelier in her parent's home, wounded and unable to speak or recall her ordeal.
Sigmund Freud, accompanied by his disciple Carl Jung, has just arrived in New York prior to travelling to Clark University at Worcester, Massacusetts to give a series of lectures. He is asked to examine and treat the young Miss Acton as it is believed that some kind of hysteria has caused her symptoms. Freud designates one of his followers a young American colleague Dr Stratham Younger to attend to Miss Acton.
Charles Hugel brings in Detective Jimmy Littlemore to help with his investigation into the Riverford murder, and Littlemore and Younger begin to work together as the book proceeds, and become joint investigators into the mystery.
George Banwell, the owner of the Balmoral, a friend of the mayor is a suspect, but there a many red herrings in the plot. Banwell's firm is building the Manhattan Bridge, which plays a major part in the action.
The novel is full of interesting characters including Banwell's beautiful wife Clara, Freud's translator Abraham Brill, psychiatric expert Smith Ely Jelliffe, and the most even the famous murderer of the age Harry Thaw.
If you have not studied the period you will be surprised reading the author's notes that so many of the book's incidents were real life events.
But nothing in the story is quite what it seems, and as one layer of mystery is peeled away, we find a fresh series of events to puzzle us.

Rubenfeld frankly gives us too much to absorb, a crime novel with numerous suspects and a love interest, a social history of Manhattan, a treatise on the origins of psychoanalysis, and on top of this an essay on Hamlet.
With Freud in the story sex and sexuality play a major role in the plot, but as the Jewish mother said when told by the family doctor that her son had an oedipus complex: "oedipus schmoedipus who cares as long as he loves his mother."
Jed Rubenfeld has written a fine crime novel, within an extremely interesting historical setting. He has obviously thrown his heart and soul into the project, with its meticulous research, and it will be interesting to see if he has similar success with a sequel.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely sounds good, Norm/Uriah -- as you know I've bought it and when I can clear a few days in my diary ;-), I'll get started.
On the question in your next post, I'd go for Donna Leon but partly because I haven't read the other author.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I decided to go for the Leon, because after 500 pages in 1909 I thought I had better get back to modern day.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Maxine,I hope you enjoy Interpretations but there is a lot in the book, and i would be interested in your opinion. I read the amazon reviews after I had written mine, and some readers felt swamped by the scope of the novel. I did think it could have been 100 pages less in length.

1:13 PM  

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