Friday, 13 June 2008

Jed Rubenfeld, The Interpretation of Murder (Headline, 2006)

Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder made a bit of a splash here by getting itself chosen by Richard and Judy as the best read of the year, and last year it was read as the book of the week on BBC Radio4. I took the long road to Cambridge and back yesterday and spent the eight hours on the bus reading this.

The story runs two parallel storylines, one centring on Freud's 1909 visit to the USA, and the other, the murder of a young woman in a bizarre S&M scenario in an expensive block of apartments in a posh part of New York City. When a second girl is attacked and survives, Freud and the circle of psychoanalysts around him become involved to help the girl recover her memory and identify the killer.

There is a good deal of atmospheric description of the social scene in New York City, and the first half of the book sets up the mystery rather well, I think. The problem is that as the novel draws to a close there is considerable difficulty in wrapping things up. I think that what has happened is that one layer of story has been laid upon another, all individually good ideas, but it ends up too layered and tying it all together becomes unwieldy. I see what Rubenfeld was trying to do and it is ambitious. The way that so much turns on the very simple detail of the monogram impression on the dead girl's neck, left there by the murderer, might have worked had it not gone through so many unnecessary twists, and when that details is 'explained' at the end, I'm afraid that it leaves you a little at a loss. Again, the idea that the killer is someone you never expected is certainly a satisfying part of a good crime novel. However, the way that this killer's motives are set within the context of psychoanalysis leaves one a little cold, almost unconvinced.

All the Freud and Jung stuff is quite interesting, the tension and rivalry between them. There's also the very enjoyable hint that Jung might be the murderer, not one you're supposed to take very seriously, but it's a bit of a giggle. And Freud and Jung occupy a position that is slightly off centre in the book. So the analysis, the investigating, the direct contact with the murder and the amnesiac witness, are all done by Dr Younger and Det. Littlemore. I think this might have rendered the presence of Freud greater had it been handled better, but as it is, they remained characters badly in need of more fleshing out.

Having said all of this, I did keep reading, and the weaknesses of the book only become apparent in the final 40 or 50 pages. Bring it on holidays. You'll enjoy it.

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