In the ambitious, much ballyhooed debut novel from Yale Law Professor Jed Rubenfeld, murder, intrigue and history are wrapped around the hype of the hook of Sigmund Freud’s 1909 visit to New York City, his one and only trip to the United States.
Still, Freud himself is not a major character (though there are scenes where he shows his acumen). Along with Freud is his rival and companion Carl Jung, there to deliver a series of university lectures. But psychologist Stratham Younger enlists their help in solving the murder of a debutante attacked by a brutally sadistic killer. The first victim, a young woman by the name of Elizabeth Riverford, is found dead, her corpse showing signs of having been whipped, mutilated, and strangled with the perpetrator’s tie (a hook to the tie and its pin are recovered from the scene).
The second victim, Nora Acton escaped the killer but is left so traumatized that she is unable to remember any of the of the events that transpired - and is, for a short time, unable to even speak. Under the tutelage of Freud, Younger takes Acton on as a patient, getting the intimate details of her sexually repressed memories while trying to curtail his own lustful desires. There are many characters to follow in Rubenfeld’s work: those mentioned above, plus a mayor, the city coroner, and possible other dead-end leads in this murder mystery.
As a thriller, I would have to say that The Interpretation of Murder doesn’t work so well (though while the book is not exactly a top notch, action-packed thriller, the spot in the caisson is good). A more accurate way to describe the novel would be to say there are plenty of interesting scenes, interesting dialogue, and some nifty twists (albeit too many, making for a convoluted ending). Where this book scores big is in recreating 1909 New York City. Rubenfeld scores additional kudos for the history of the Brooklyn Bridge - very interesting and compelling stuff.
Ron Rifkin does a top-notch job in his audio performance, really giving it a professional feel. Re: the story structure itself: Being a first time author, Rubenfeld will get a pass. But the multiple-character point-of-view shifts begin to wear as the story goes back and forth between Freud and the mystery. Perhaps the narrative would flow better with more reliance on artistic imagination and less on research. Overall, The Interpretation Of Murder is an interesting audio experience similar to Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, being a more compelling historical tale than outright thriller. Despite its multiple shifts and lackluster ending, there is great entertainment value in Rubenfeld’s work.