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Book Review: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

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Sigmund Freud's pioneering work on psychoanalysis, William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the aristrocracy of New York in the early 20th century, and the construction of the Manhattan Bridge are all key elements of Jed Rubenfeld's well-plotted though curiously languid murder mystery, The Interpretation of Murder.

Freud actually plays a minor role. The investigation of the murder and attempted murder of two wealthy young women in New York City is conducted by the two principal characters in the book: Dr. Stratham Younger, a Freudian adherent, and Detective Jimmy Littlemore of the police department. Younger analyzes the actions, motives, relationships, and personalities of all those involved in the crimes while Littlemore methodically and energetically hypothesizes on what might have happened and sets out to determine if it could, or did, happen. The juxtaposition of the two approaches works well in The Interpretation of Murder, lending credibility to the sometimes implausible.

The historical elements of The Interpretation of Murder both add to and detract from the story. It is interesting to see how Younger incorporates both the theories of Freud and the writing of Shakespeare into his investigation, but much of the academic debate regarding Freud, Carl Jung, and the Triumvirate is completely irrelevant to the mystery.

Rubenfeld oddly chose to write Younger's role in first-person narrative, using third-person point of view for the rest of the book. With at least two principal characters, this method doesn't work well. Rubenfeld illustrates how ill-considered this literary approach was by inexplicably writing a pivotal chapter near the end of the book that includes Younger but is written in third person. Based on this chapter alone, it is highly likely that had the entire book been written in third person, the result would have been significantly better.

The Interpretation of Murder is a cleverly devised murder mystery and Rubenfeld is clearly a talented writer. But flaws in style and editing prevent it from being a memorable novel of suspense fiction.

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
Henry Holt (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-8050-8098-8 (0805080988)
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8098-8 (9780805080988)
Publication Date: September 2006
List Price: $26.00

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