Click here to read reviewer Janelle Martin's take on The Interpretation of Murder.
Arriving in New York City, Sigmund Freud and his charge Carl Jung are met by the younger protégé Dr. Stratham Younger, a student of psychiatric therapy and a great admirer of Freud. Following a series of clues that stretch from the elite drawing rooms of the Upper West
Side to the dark flophouses of Canal Street, Freud is employed by Dr. Younger to try and solve a brutal murder.
Miss Riverford, a young debutante, is discovered in a Manhattan hotel, bound, gagged and strangulated. Apart from her back, it seems that she was whipped repeatedly about her buttocks and pelvis; in addition, she was cut once on each of her thighs with a sharp knife or razor.
New York City Mayor George McClellan orders rookie detective Jimmy Littlemore to be placed in charge of the case. Upon interviewing those last to see the woman alive, Jimmy learns the only girls usually seen at that hour would have been "working girls," and Miss Riverford certainly didn't look like one of those.
Two security guards also saw a man leave the hotel about midnight in a big hurry. He was black-haired tall, lean, and well-dressed, wearing glasses and carrying a black case of some kind. So begins Detective Littlemore's harrowing ordeal as the focus turns to seventeen-year-old Nora Action, the deceptively naïve daughter of the Actions of Gramercy Park.
One night Nora becomes the victim of a brutal assault in her family's house while her parents are away. The criminal is not apprehended, nor is he even seen by anyone else. Rather than suffering from the trauma of a physical attack, Nora seems to adopt a psychological "transference" of the most virulent strain.
Mayor McClellan desperately wants a description of the criminal from Nora, as he and Littlemore are sure that both assaults are somehow connected to the wealthy industrialist George Banwell and his ravishingly seductive wife, Clara. But Nora can neither speak nor even remember what happened to her.
With no physical injuries capable of producing her symptoms, McClellan enlists the help of Younger and Freud to release her suppressed memories. Yet from the underground caverns of the East River to the tenements of the
Lower East Side, Littlemore, Younger and Freud seem to flounder in their efforts to fully interpret the murder of Miss Riverford and discover the reasons behind Nora's assault.
Jed Rubenfeld's research is rigorous, and The Interpretation of Murder is certainly kaleidoscopic in tone and form as the author brings to life the world of New York in 1909 with its high society, a volatile amalgam of power money and celebrity, where even the occasional murderer could be lionized, provided he was of the right breed.
The novel is certainly a literary feast, but the author tends to overly embellish his story with all manner of red herrings and subplots; consequently the narrative comes across as a bit tedious in places. There's an awful lot going on here: corpses go missing, another body turns up, an ominous presence seems intent
on damaging Freud's character, Jung lurks outside Nora's house late at night, and both Littlemore and Younger fall in love with their respective ingénues.
The only way Freud, Younger and Littlemore are going to discover the true identity of the murderer is by exposing those suspects who believe in the "carnality of the soul," revealing his dreams, his consciousness and his most clandestine desires, in this world where men bind women for pleasure and where women anxiously hide their forbidden erotic secrets.