Book Club Review – The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

Always happy for another chance to talk books, the WI-Flyers Book Club met up again – via Zoom – on Wednesday 2nd September 2020.  The book we discussed was The Interpretation of Murder by American law professor, Jed Rubenfeld. 

The story opens on a hot summer night in 1909 as Sigmund Freud disembarks in New York from a steamship. Waiting for him on the docks is a young psychoanalyst named Stratham Younger, one of Freud’s most devoted American supporters. So begins this story of what will be the great genius’s first, and last, journey to America.

The morning after his arrival, a beautiful young woman is found bound and strangled in her penthouse apartment in one of the city’s grand new skyscrapers. The next day brings a similar crime in a townhouse on Gramercy Park. Only this time the young heiress, Nora Acton, escapes with her life – but with no memory of the attack. Dr Younger is asked to consult on the case; he calls on Freud to guide him through the girl’s analysis. Their investigation, and the pursuit of the culprit, lead throughout New York, from the luxurious ballrooms of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, through secret passages, to Chinatown – even far below the currents of the East River, where labourers are digging through the silt at the bottom of the East River to build the foundations of the Manhattan Bridge. 

It’s not a straightforward murder mystery but an ingenious, suspenseful historical thriller, using a very intricate weaving of true events and characters alongside fictional events and characters.

The writing is wonderful and the research impeccable.  New York just after the turn of the twentieth century is a character all on its own, beautifully portrayed and perfectly used. Along with society matriarchs, rebellious daughters, immoral fathers, psychotic psychiatrists, corrupt officials, madams and prostitutes with hearts of gold, and determined discoverers of the truth, it all makes for an intriguing set of circumstances, because even the fictional people feel real.

This is the sort of book that you get more and more out of on second and subsequent readings and also the kind of book that different people could take different things from.  I loved it.