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March 13, 2008 / lazybug

Just Read: The Interpretation of Murder

There is no mystery to happiness. All unhappy men are alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn–or worse, indifference–cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterday.

The Interpretation of Murder
Thus begins Jed Rubenfeld’s psychology-driven murder mystery, The Interpretation of Murder.

The setting is turn of the century New York (1909). The economy is booming. Manhattan’s famous sky scrapers are just about taking shape, many more new buildings are in the making. On the roads, the automobile is quickly replacing the Horse-driven carriage. Power, money and celebrity have gripped the city’s rich who’ve never had it so good.

But money, as they say, cannot buy you love and other such intangible needs. This inevitably gives rise to the mentally scorned.

Another very important event occurred that year: Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychoanalysis was on his first, and only, visit to America. He is to deliver three lectures on psychoanalysis at the Clark University. He is accompanied by his two followers, Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi. He is received at the Hoboken Harbour by the protagonist of the Novel, Dr Younger Stratham, a young, budding Psychoanalyst, who had to work very hard to convince the old man to come to America. He’s accompanied by Abraham Brill, a Psychologist and a big fan of Freud.

Freud is amazed by everything he sees. The underground rail, the magnificent buildings and the American life style. Beneath all this though, Freud believes something is terribly wrong with America. What exactly it is, he never tells.

At about the same time though, in one of the newly constructed posh Apartments of Manhattan, a young women is being tied, whipped, cut and eventually choked to death by a psychotic man. The news never makes it to the papers, thanks to the owner of the apartment building, George Banwell. The mayor of New York, Charles McClellan, assigns the task of finding the killer to the Coroner, Charles Hugel, and a little known detective, aptly named, Littlemore.

Two days later, a similar attack happens. The victim again is a young woman, Nora Acton, daughter of a filthy rich couple. Nora, however, is not dead, but she has lost her voice and memory of the killer. Not aware the similarities between the two attacks, McClellan assigns the task of retrieving Nora’s memory to Dr Younger, who’s in turn helped by Freud.

What follows is a dramatic unfolding of the murder mystery.

Jed Rubenfeld makes great use of his knowledge of Dr Sigmund Freud, 19th century New York and Shakespeare in constructing the thriller. His knowledge of New York is exemplary and is visible in the minute details he mentions about the city’s social life and the English that the city’s elite speak. The plots and sub-plots are well-knitted. In short, it’s a page turner of the highest order with a totally unpredictable ending. There’s a healthy sprinkling of psychology, which is one of my favourite subjects (though I never pursued it academically). In fact, it’s one the reasons I bought the book in the first place. Don’t regret the decision one bit.

Related readings…

Official website of the book:



Leave a Comment
  1. Liju Philip / Mar 14 2008 2:44 am

    You are on jet speed finishing off one book after another. Time for me to buck up and start reading the ones i have bought.

    Think we should start off some sort of a central repository of books where we can all share. 🙂

  2. lazybug / Mar 14 2008 6:04 am

    Thanks Liju. Looking forward to your reviews too…

    As for the repository, you talking about e-books?

  3. Chittaranjan / Mar 14 2008 8:36 am

    This one’s also an e-book?

    BTW, the title reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri’s book…Interpreter of Maladies 😛

  4. lazybug / Mar 14 2008 8:59 am

    Ycee, this one’s not an e-book, that’s why the question. I have a feeling the title is inspired by Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams.

  5. Santhosh / Mar 14 2008 5:16 pm

    Looks interesting. Kab dera book mereko?

  6. Liju Philip / Mar 15 2008 1:16 am

    Ya, something like we publish the list of books/e-books that we have. So that people can exchange and read.

  7. lazybug / Mar 15 2008 4:46 pm

    I have about 700 Mb of e-Books. would be glad to share! There’s a fellow wordpress blogger called Footprints…who’s a big e-Books fan. Been absconding for some time now.

    The big Q is, how do we do it?

  8. draabe / Jun 23 2008 3:10 am

    Totally suprised by the ending, really? I thought there were some hints. After the hype this book had received, I actually expected a little more – but that’s not to say it’s not worth reading.

  9. lazybug / Jun 23 2008 4:26 pm

    @Draabe: Indeed. I was expecting a typical detective novel type ending where the protagonist explains how everything happened–though a part me did not want that to happen. The ending was, in a way, disappointing…but I can’t blame the author for that.

  10. Eric W. / Apr 25 2011 4:21 pm

    A good mystery, providing all the knots of a case and than slowly but surely revealing everything thread by thread as you unravel the knot that is this story. i personally enjoyed the elaborate hoax than the story presented. the fact aspect combined with the fictious aspect really intrigued me.

  11. Eric W. / Apr 25 2011 4:22 pm

    wonder if my last comment posted

    • Eric W. / Apr 25 2011 4:22 pm


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