Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"There is no mystery to happiness."

Really good first line? You bet. The start of a really good book? Not really. I stayed up until 4:30am this morning finishing The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. I was having trouble getting through it over the past few days and I decided to power through just to find out what happened. There are many good things about the book but it just wasn't quite there for me.

This book is a historical fiction/thriller about a lecture visit that Sigmund Freud made to New York in 1909. He apparently left America with an unexplained distate for the country and this story is a fictional account of what happened while he was in New York City. I'm a big fan of historical fiction from this period, namely fictions about Edgar Allan Poe. This book has many of the same elements, ie. discussions about the state of New York City's government and the trappings of high society. The main difference, though, is that in the Poe historical fictions, he is the main character. Freud was just a side character in the main plot of this story and therefore I didn't get to learn as much about him as I would have liked to.

This book had a few flaws that kept me from totally enjoying it, even as easy reading. First, the characters, on more than one occasion, use sarcasm. The problem with this is that it's hard to read sarcasm. I couldn't help thinking that this probably worked better as an audiobook. Second, there are few modern male authors that don't creep me out when they write about sex. This book didn't even really have any actual sex in it but there were references to body parts and such and it was just so awkward and almost immature that it was off-putting. I mean, he used the words "down there". Awkward. Finally, I just felt that the book needed some more editing for flow. The book is less than 400 pages long but for some reason it had five "Parts". These weren't any sort of scene change or time change as the book happened in about a week and the story skipped between different narratives. I'm not sure what the point of the parts was. Also, there was a bit too much movement between narratives and there were some superfluous characters. This should have been a bit more polished.

The copy I have of this novel has a review from Matthew Pearl on the back, whose books I have enjoyed. Now that I re-read the review, it's very well crafted to not actually say that it's a good book but to say that the plot is compelling and that the ideas of the book are intriguing, which I totally agree with.

As I am in Olympics mode, I will finish by saying that the book had good enthusiasm but was lacking in execution.

Moving on,

Buy The Interpretation of Murder on Amazon or find it at your local library.


  1. Yep. I totally agree. I also thought, great concept, but...

    Maybe his next book will be better?

  2. I hope so. He obviously did some great research and had some good ideas but it smelled of "first book". If the concept is as good on his second book, I would probably give it a chance.

  3. I agree it could have been better. A book that I'm excited to tell you about is one that couldn't be better. Titled Bear Any Burden, by Ellis Goodman.
    It's an Espionage Thriller about a man on a mission for the British Secret Intelligence Services to drop off a bag containing cash and passports to help a nuclear scientist flee the country.
    The story rolls along at a nice set pace, describing historical events in such great detail that you live them with the characters and feel their emotions as the story develops. I really enjoyed it!