The Interpretation of Murder – Review

Month: September 2010

Book-Had was reading: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld


The book began thus: “There is no mystery to happiness…” Well, there is no mystery in the book either. Except the reasons for even writing one that is so shallow in places where it should have been deep.

The book begins on an extravagant note to anyone who has read the back cover of the book. The abstract of the book sounds grand, makes it appealing and makes you wish you’d get through it in no time. But, alas, the story fizzles out just like the carbon dioxide of a just-opened soda bottle.

And so we enter ‘The Interpretation of Murder‘ with Dr. Stratham Younger, the narrator, waiting at a harbor for a certain gentleman, who the reader hopes is going to play a huge role in the book, Sigmund Freud. The description, of the unrest at the harbor and the arrival of Freud with a party, is all very well. A few more pages into the book, we are told that a girl (Elizabeth Riverford) is murdered; she is donned in almost nothing and has grotesque marks on her body; all very well too. And it makes the reader wish that there is a good reason for someone going after her throat in such a romantic fashion. Too bad, that the reason is not a very good one.

Sigmund Freud arrives in early 20th century New York to deliver lectures at Clark University. I might add though, the description of the Big Apple in that era was very vivid. As it does happen in most murder mysteries, the timing of the murder and the arrival of Freud on American soil, cause Freud to get involved in the investigation. (This one is a no-brainer; you ought to guess it while you’re reading.) What is a little tiresome is the wait for Freud to enter the investigation, and add that little spark, to what is until at this point of time in the book, a wayside murder. Sadly, Freud just plays, what our readers have likened, a ‘Dumbledore to Harry’ to Dr. Stratham Younger in the book; and nothing more. He comes in when Younger needs a little help, he chips in his two pence to what Younger has discovered, and goes back into the wings.

The second time, the killer fails to kill a certain Miss Nora Acton, and she proves to be the only witness who can be interrogated to nail down the murderer, albeit with a lost voice. Miss Acton can’t seem to remember anything from that night and neither is she able to speak. Thanks to a lot of convoluted twists in the book and some added masala by the author, Miss Acton is being resorted to psychological treatment by Dr. Younger to determine more about the killer.

Simply the story is this:

Nora Acton was tortured, but not killed, by Mr. Killer who has already killed another girl- She has lost her voice – Dr. Younger is brought in to treat her – Freud is helping Younger as and when he can – A certain Mr. Littlemore is investigating this case on behalf of the Police Department of New York – A certain Mr. and Mrs. Banwell enter the scene, as the building in which the murder takes place belongs to them (They are also affiliated to the Actons) – Younger and Littlemore eventually solve the case.

At the mention of Mr. Littlemore, we have to stop a bit and give Littlemore the credit he deserves. By general consensus, he is THE finest and only lovable character in the book. Very measured, smart and a quick thinker- just like the detectives you are damned to like. One of our readers, Hardik Kothare, says about Littlemore, “My favourite character was Jimmy Littlemore. One of the reasons is his ability ‘to get a girl’ immediately…how could he do it? Damn! I am jealous! Haha.” Yes, he is undoubtedly a high point in the book. And whilst reading the garbled story, you find yourself hoping he would jump in and save the falling-apart story line.

Some other mentions that the book review is incomplete without:

The author has used the Oedipus Complex as the base for the book. He uses it to explain what’s going on with Nora and that immature mind of hers. Not only Nora, the author has also explained the reasons why Hamlet behaves like he does, on the basis of the Oedipus. (Yes, Hamlet, the one sketched by the Bard)That portion is a little stirring. Just a little. Rubenfeld has struggled with the Oedipus all along the book. And come to think of it, the book was based on the theory.

A certain high of the book is Dr. Stratham Younger’s theory that most great inventions took place at the turn of a century. It makes you sit up and read while the rest of the reading is so tiring and forced.

Once again, the description of Mrs. Clara Banwell was another small jump in the book, and how she is with Nora through here treatment on and off.

Carl Jung arrives with Sigmund Freud and his character is totally wasted. Could have done without it.

As a Bollywood measure, a group of three men calling themselves the Triumvirate enter the scene. They behave like they are going to pull off a stunt, but they don’t quite do anything as such. Could have done without it too.

To wind up, one can say that there is nothing you take away from the book. It is a sluggish read. For those who have read Freud, it is just an overview of what the man was. They story is not gripping and neither is it educational for those who have not read Freud.

Book-Had rates ‘The Interpretation of Murder’ a 1.5/5
– Sameen Borker

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