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Book Review – The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubensfeld

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All it took was one trip, and Freud would never return…to America…

Sit back and relax as you are taken on a journey through the mind. From the deviance of a sexually, sadistic killer, to the psychoanalytical processing of one of the greatest psychological savants in the world, it is a safe assumption you will not be able to put down this book until the final page has been turned.

Jed Rubenfeld, a law professor at the prestigious Yale University, shines in his first novel, The Interpretation of Murder. With the perfect blend of fact and fiction, this historical mystery twists and turns through 1909, New York City, without pause. From the vibrant aristocracy and a host of interesting characters including New York City mayor, George McClellan, to the underworld of the gritty New York streets and back there is not a moment you can miss in this book without feeling a bit cheated.

As a former student of Criminal Justice, I took great interest in the psychoanalytical aspect of the book as the main character took charge over an amnesiac socialite teenager all while searching for her attacker, who was also the murderer of another young woman. It is in the nature of a CJ professional to want to analyze a criminal, and the main character, Dr. Stratham Younger, does so with vigor, and the help of some of the most important analytical minds in history.

To further complicate the story, Rubensfeld intricately intertwines real life New York City in 1909 and the first and last visit Sigmund Freud made to America with the fictional world. It has long been disputed exactly why Freud never returned to America after just one trip. Rubensfeld fills in the gaps while leaving it open-ended enough for the reader to make their own conclusions.

With Freud comes his prized pupil, Carl Jung. Through the observations of the “first-person” Younger-told story, Jung is portrayed as aloof. Of course, Rubensfeld also leaves an air of mystery about his teacher, Freud.

While some see Freud as the father of sexual psychoanalysis, others view him as a quack. In this book, Rubensfeld leaves enough to the imagination to appease those from either schools of thought, especially as Younger questions whether Freud’s situational analyses are correct or not.

As murder and mayhem set the scene in The Interpretation of Murder, the pieces of the book fall into place nicely. While the story is primarily told through the eyes of the protagonist, Younger, Rubensfield easily switches to the third-person style, characteristic in books when the main character simply cannot know what is happening outside their scope of vision.

To say that Rubensfeld researched the historical aspects of the book is an understatement. As only a skilled story master can do through their prose, you actually experience the world Rubensfeld created during the moments you are enraptured in the book.

As the story fits together and the pieces of the puzzle are put into place, the ending reveals the observations of Younger – or are they Rubensfeld himself speaking through his character? Regardless, the only disappointing part of the book is the cliché ending for Stratham Younger. Of course, so many other things are happening at this point, I did not let that bother me too much.

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  • Annie

    The Interpretation of Murder, for me was the most interesting book i have ever read, as a criminal psychologist myself, i found the mixture of fact and fiction enthralling. i am a very keen follower of Freud’s work and always try to introduce my students to his theories early on as he has the capabiities to mesmerise students with hypothesis’s of sexuality and degradation, i will definatley instruct my class to read this book, there was romance, murder, aristocracy, politics, and intellect, the only dissapointment for me was that,at the end, i had to say a silent goodbye to a man i may have fallen in love with, Dr statham younger. (only kidding, im not that wierd lol)

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