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The Interpretation of Murder [Audiobook, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Jed Rubenfeld
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 5 2006
The Interpretation of Murder opens on a hot summer night in 1909 as Sigmund Freud arrives in New York. Among those waiting to greet him is Dr. Stratham Younger, a gifted physician who is one of Freud’s most ardent American supporters. And so begins the visit that will be the great genius’s first–and only–journey to America.
The morning after Freud’s arrival, in an opulent penthouse across the city, a woman is discovered murdered–whipped, mutilated, and strangled with a white silk tie. The next day, a rebellious heiress named Nora Acton barely escapes becoming the killer’s second victim. Yet, suffering from hysteria, Miss Acton cannot remember the terrifying incident or her attacker. Asked to consult on the case, Dr. Younger calls on the visiting Freud to guide him through the girl’s analysis.
The Interpretation of Murder is an intricately plotted, elegantly wrought entertainment filled with delicious surprises, subtle sleights of hand, and fascinating ideas. Drawing on Freud’s case histories, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the rich history of New York, this remarkable novel marks the debut of a brilliantly engaging new storyteller.

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From Publishers Weekly

Turning a psychological thriller with a cast that includes Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and several important American politicians and millionaires from a rich textual experience to a gripping and exciting audio event requires a reader with many skills. Heyborne knows how to use just his voice to bring a variety of nationalities and social classes to life. He can catch the inherent smartness of a working-class detective in a phrase, and can as quickly mark a pioneering medical examiner as a dangerous crank. But where he really succeeds is in the three very different psychoanalysts who move Rubenfeld's story of murder and psychosis down its distinctive road. Heyborne's Freud is an all-too-human man of obvious charm and originality; Freud's disciple Jung is cold, calculating and obviously envious; and fictional narrator Dr. Stratham Younger is a bright and admiring early Freudian who is also somewhat skeptical about some of the Viennese master's theories. This goes a long way in easing listeners through some of Rubenfeld's longer monologues about life and architecture in New York in 1909—passages that readers had the option of skimming without missing any vital nuances.
Copyright© American Library Association. All rights reserved

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Sigmund Freud's singular visit to the U.S.--which prompted him to label Americans "savages"--provides the premise for Rubenfeld's provocative mystery debut. As the novel opens, Freud, along with rival and protege Carl Jung, arrives in America in the steamy summer of 1909 to deliver a series of university lectures. He is soon enlisted by psychologist Stratham Younger to help solve the case of two New York debutantes preyed upon by a sadistic killer. The first young woman, Elizabeth Riverford, was found dead (whipped, mutilated, and strangled with the perpetrator's silk tie), but the second, Nora Acton, managed to escape--with no memory, alas, of the traumatic events that transpired. Under the guidance of Freud, Dr. Younger takes on Acton as a patient, becoming privy to her sexually repressed memories while fighting lustful inclinations of his own. Meanwhile, city officials pursue clues in the case, as Freud's detractors set out to ruin his reputation._Rubenfeld renders rich, complex characters, vivid period detail, and prose riddled with heady references to Hamlet. He deftly blends fiction and fact (a detailed author's note draws clear lines between the two), and his brisk, sinuous plot makes room for playful interpretations of the world according to Freud. When a dinner-party guest inquires as to the ramifications of her runny nose, Freud replies: "Sometimes a catarrh, I'm afraid, is just a catarrh." Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This is one outstanding read if you are a New Yorker who enjoys historical thrillers the way I do! With uncanny precision, Jed Rubenfeld accurately and colorfully describes turn of the twentieth century New York City at a time many historians consider to be the `incubator period' of what has shaped to become the modern day city of the world, while providing us with a fascinating thriller filled with some of the most interesting and unique characters ever to shape the pages of the fictionalized world: true life mentor/teacher soon-to-be nemesis Dr. Sigmund Freud and Dr. Carl Jung!

Through the author's considerable but flawless effort, the reader can actually feel the pulse and heartbeat of a resilient, yet awkward New York City as it begins to find itself. The physical awakening of America was seen through the eyes of the world as a concentration of activity evolving around New York City. In `The Interpretation of Murder' Jed Rubenfeld articulates to the reader New York City in the year 1909: a time when the city clearly began to distinguish itself from every other city in the world. With a sense of awkwardness, America's social denizens during the Gilded Age, still accustomed to the status of the golden crowns, yearned for approval: always being mindful of social status. In fact, as the author properly points out, `New York Society in the Gilded Age was essentially the creation of two very rich women, Mrs. Astor and Ms. Vanderbilt, and the titanic clash between them (a few years earlier).

Embarking off a transatlantic voyage into New York City in 1909 at the invitation of Clark University, Dr. Sigmund Freud, along with his young protégé' Dr.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Nov. 3 2006
Format:Hardcover
This book was brilliant! The author managed to blend history and fiction seamlessly. Mr Rubenfeld weaves his tale with great details, beautiful prose and brings it all together at the end. Even if you are a NYC history buff and know your Jung and Freud biographies, it's difficult to tell which is based in facts and which part is made-up. The book is a mix of thriller, murder-mystery and historical novel, all rolled-up in one. I was suprised at some of the events in the book that turned out to be true. I am looking forward to Mr Rubenfeld next book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Mainly, this book refers to Dr. Freud's first and only trip to New York at the beginning of last century (1909) for some lectures about psychotherapy, which was just beginning in the USA. He was accompanied by Dr.Carl Jung and Dr. Sandor Ferenczi. I think that the author's own background (Mr. Rubenfeld wrote his thesis about Freud at Princeton and additionally studied Shakespeare), offers a very knowledgeable insight into this particular trip, after which it seems Freud returned to Europe feeling forever odd about his American experience.
Based on this fact -for many agree that Dr.Freud was somehow `traumatized' during his sojourn in the USA and biographers never could quite understand why- the author introduces us to the first fictitious character, Dr. Stratham Younger, a young psychoanalyst who welcomes his much admired and distinguished guest and his entourage upon their arrival. And this is where facts meet fiction.

`The Interpretation of Murder' is the product of the author's imagination trying to give an answer to what could have happened in New York that caused Dr. Freud so much distress. So in comes Dr. Younger, Freud's disciple. The day Freud arrives, a very beautiful young heiress is found murdered, the following day another young lady from a prominent family is found wounded and traumatized, but alive. It seems both crimes have been perpetrated by the same person. The second girl has lost her speech and remembers nothing. This is when Dr. Younger is contacted, to try and psychoanalyze this girl, Nora Acton, in order to help her regain her speech and memory. Younger seeks Dr. Freud's advice and the main story takes off from here, with the involvement of the local coroner and Detective Littlemore.

New York and part of its wealthy society are the main background.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  98 reviews
119 of 133 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Succeeds as a Historical Novel, but not as a Thriller Sept. 12 2006
By Thriller Lover - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER is probably the most hyped thriller of the year. This debut novel, which takes place in New York during the summer of 1909, promises an exciting murder mystery where the legendary Dr. Sigmund Freud tries to track down a killer of a young society woman.

As a thriller, I must admit this novel really disappointed me. Freud is not a central character in this book at all. Instead, this novel features a large number of characters, and author Jed Rubenfeld keeps shifting the focus from one character to another. As a result, none of the characters are fully developed and many of them end up as slightly cartoonish.

In particular, I was heavily displeased with how Dr. Carl Jung was portrayed in this novel. Rubenfeld portrays Jung as a thoroughly unlikable person, a borderline psychopath with virtually no redeemable qualities whatsoever. Freud, by contrast, is portrayed as a virtual saint. Although I am not an expert on either man, I seriously doubt that these are fair and accurate portrayals of what these men were really like.

In the end, the large number of one-dimensional characters made this novel a somewhat sterile experience. I did not find this book the least bit emotionally engaging, which is a fatal problem for any thriller. In order to be thrilled by a book, I have to care for the people inside it. That did not happen with THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER.

I was also highly disappointed by the ending of this novel, when Rubenfeld reveals who the murderer is, and how the crime was committed. This is, quite simply, one of the most convoluted and unbelievable explanations for a crime that I have ever read. This book has an abnormally large number of plot twists at the end, but none of them were the least bit credible.

This book is further burdened by numerous subplots that do little to advance the story, most notably a rather dull subplot invovling a conspiracy to block Freud's lectures at Clark University. This subplot, which Rubenfeld openly admits has no basis in historical fact, has a remarkably anti-climactic ending. I wish this subplot had been eliminated, since it only serves to distract the reader from the much more interesting murder mystery.

So why read this book? First of all, Rubenfeld does an excellent job of recreating Manhattan in the year 1909. He obviously did a great deal of research for this book, and it shows on almost every page. I enjoy historical novels, and I found the level of historical detail in this book to be very impressive. I really felt like I transported to another place, and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

Second, this novel also serves as a very interesting introduction to the theories of Sigmund Freud. I have never studied psychology in depth. Despite this fact, I thought Rubenfeld did a good job making Freud's ideas understandable, largely through a series of dialogues between Freud and other characters. This novel made me more interested in Freud and his psychology, which I'm sure was Rubenfeld's intention.

In short, this book largely flops as a thriller. But I thought it was a decent historical novel, with a lot of material to stimulate the intellect. Rubenfeld deserves credit for writing something this ambitious, although he does not completely succeed. I therefore give this novel a mild recommendation.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rubenfeld off to a great start! Sept. 26 2006
By Susan Tunis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I don't especially consider myself a fan of historical fiction. But every now and then I stumble upon a novel that's purely entertaining. The Interpretation of Murder is one such novel, and I have to say that the depiction of New York in 1909 was my favorite part of the book. The city itself is like a character!

It's clear that debut novelist Rubenfeld did his research. Not just about the city, but also about his famous characters. The novel is set during the one and only visit of Sigmund Freud to America. Apparently, for the rest of his life Freud referred to Americans as "savages" and spoke disparagingly of the US. It's a true historical mystery, because no one knows what may have happened while Freud was here that so soured the man on this country and its people.

In the mystery of this book, Freud visits America with his desciple Carl Jung and gets involved with a murder. The psychologists--along with a fictional counterpart, Dr. Stratham Younger--are asked to consult on the case. Amazingly, Rubenfeld has stolen great chunks of the character's dialog from their real life writing and correspondence, lending a verisimilitude to their psychobabble. While the doctors are analyzing everyone they encounter, the case is being solved by Dr. Younger and wet-behind-the-ears Detective Littlemore.

Others have gone into the plot in more detail, and as convoluted as the story is, there doesn't seem to be much point in me doing it again. And that may be the novel's biggest flaw. The many, many twists and reversals in this psychological who-done-it keep you turning the pages at a lightning pace, but the final denouement takes nearly 50 pages to explain what really happened! That's a lot of 'splaining! It's a very convoluted story and in the end may stretch your credulity.

Be that as it may, this novel is well worth reading. I felt like a time machine had taken me back to the NY of 1909. It was just wonderful and fascinating--and this again from a non-history buff. Plus, Detective Littlemore is one of my favorite characters I've encountered in quite some time. I would LOVE to see him again! And I even feel I learned something, quite painlessly, about the psychological theories of Jung and Freud. I really hope Rubenfeld, a professor of law, returns to fiction again.
37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a soulless and silly story July 22 2007
By sockhopper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book has been deceptively promoted as a mystery and one in which Freud (in America in 1909 to deliver a lecture at a university) helps to solve a murder. This book is neither of those things! There is no crime-solving in this story: the murderer simply confesses. Freud does not become involved in the murder investigation, focused as he is on averting a potential cancellation of his lecture due to American controversy over his theory and practice of psychoanalysis. Freud's contribution to the book consists of his supplying New York's mayor a professional referral to one Dr. Streatham Younger, an American psychiatrist and narrator of this story who is attracted to Freud's theories. Younger takes up the referral and attempts to apply Freud's approach to the treatment of a young lady's sudden speech paralysis that has followed an attack upon her by someone who may or not also be the murderer in the police investigation.

The clunky prose and dialogue of this book create a thoroughly unbelievable story that provides readers no sense of early 20th century life beyond a few historical facts and place names. Yes, Brooklyn Bridge is being built when Freud arrives in America. There is social competition between aristocratic families, uh-huh. It's a pre-car era with horse-drawn carriages,yeh-yeh. Without these bald data and the fact that Freud did actually visit the United States at that time, the events of this story could be occurring in any urban area where English is spoken and at any time between the late 1800's and 1940. New York City of the pertinent period is not well sketched. In this story, it appears as little more than a cardboard box into which the author tosses his considerations of Shakespeare and psychoanalysis, and his preference for Freud's constructs over Jung's. The author hasn't bothered to flesh out his location; the reader must rely upon whatever pertinent historical images happen to reside in his own mental archive to give the story's setting any visual stability.

Flat, dry and embarrassingly naive dialogue that never moves beyond the confines of the book's purposes stops the characters from sounding natural. They speak and behave like puppets appointed to the author and, just as the prose does, give us no sense of how people spoke, thought and behaved in their era. They speak exactly as people do now, a hundred years later! Poor dialogue seals the emptiness of this story.

Respected as one of America's most elegant legal writers, Rubenfeld hasn't shown in this his first novel that he has the ability to blend daily life with a story's specific goal. This story falls so short of being credible as a result of this that I can't help wonder why and how it came to be published, let alone touted as the thriller of this summer -or any other. It was an unmitigated waste of my reading time.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing as a Mystery Jan. 22 2007
By Big Mac - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Book Review:
The Interpretation of Murder
by Jeb Rubenfeld

The Interpretation of Murder was our book club's reading choice for January. We'd taken a couple of months off for the holidays, and several of us had put this book on our Christmas wish lists! Which made it the perfect book for January.

The set-up of the story is very intriguing indeed. This is a historic murder mystery based on true events. Sigmund Freud visited the United States only once and never returned. He had apparently taken quite a dislike to America while he was here, and when he returned to Europe he referred to Americans as "savages." In The Interpretation of Murder, the author creates a story to explain Freud's perceptions.

In a nutshell, it's New York City, c. 1909, and a beautiful out-of-towner has been murdered in an upscale apartment building called the Balmoral (based on a famous NYC building called the Ansonia). The murder coincides with Freud's first trip to America to deliver a lecture at Clark College. Dr. Stratham Younger, a burgeoning Freudian, is called in to psychoanalyze the murderer's second victim, who managed to escape.

It is a very intriguing set-up, and one that piqued all of our interest. But the book is not an unqualified success.

First, the pros. The author has done an excellent job with his research. Many of the details of New York City are very well done, including details about high society at the time (the feud between the Vanderbilts and the Astors). We all enjoyed the details about the mechanical feats of engineering that allowed the Manhattan Bridge to be built. We also liked the details about Gramercy Park (one of us used to live in that neighborhood).

But now the cons. While some of us thought the book moved along at a nice clip, most of us felt it was plodding, with too many things going on. The author is given to lengthy explanations of things like Shakespearean drama and the inner workings of Freudian theory, which lead to a sort of textbook feel. The plot is pretty convoluted, with a bunch of red herrings and subplots that muddy the waters, including one to discredit Freud before he even gets to speak at the university. Several of us had to read the resolution of the mystery several times to "get" it, and two of us gave up on trying to figure it all out.

There are some other disappointments, too. Most of us had been under the impression that Freud himself would be actively investigating the mystery--that's not the case. He's more of an advisor to Dr. Stratham Younger, who isn't very interesting as a narrator. The narration keeps switching back and forth between first person and third, which can work (some of us very much like books with multiple viewpoints) but in this case, it seemed like a mishmash. The portrait of Carl Jung (who accompanied Freud on his trip to the U.S.) seemed really unfair. None of us knew a tremendous amount about Jung, but the portrait of him in the book seems negative in the extreme (though the author says in his afterword that his fictional recreations of Freud and Jung are based on extensive research, which we didn't doubt).

The characters are sort of lifeless, too--no real flesh and blood there, not even the narrator. But the biggest problem we thought was the way the book reads. Freudian psychology has receded quite a bit...it's no longer what's going on in the field of psychology today, which is becoming increasingly focused on the brain and biochemistry. The Interpretation of Murder makes it seem as if Freudian psychology has been the salvation of the field, but we know that it really hasn't been (even though its influence of course cannot be denied). Now we may be wrong about this (none of us are psychologists or trained in that area) but even a casual reading of the popular press tells the common reader that it's all about biopsychology these days, not the Oedipus Complex. So the book feels like much ado about nothing...almost like a historical footnote that is out of touch.

Overall, I can't say that we disliked or hated the book, but many were disappointed in it and felt it did not live up to the hype. We took away from it a sense that the author really does love NYC and did a great job on the research. But as a mystery it leaves a lot to be desired, and in terms of suspense--it's almost nonexistent. Several of us finished it out of a sense of obligation, not because we wanted to. All told, not one of our favorite books, but to be fair, we are just a small group of people and others may love it.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Trying Too Hard Jan. 27 2007
By city country cats - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I wish I had read other reader reviews before spending my money and time, but mostly my time on this book. The "professional" reviews have got it all wrong, it;s not really very good at all. I am left with the impression that the author is trying to impress us with his knowledge of Shakespeare, his cleverness over Hamlet,his understanding of psychoanalysis, his admiration for Freud/hatred of Jung and his research of old New York. Only the last of these works at all. It's what kept me motivated to finish the book though I do confess to skipping paragraphs about 60% into it. The plot, which is summed up extremely well by a number of the Amazon reviewers has great potential - initially you get really sucked in - but then in the end feel robbed. There are so many threads that don't really ever come together, the dialog in many cases is amateurish,the intertwining of Hamlet gets boring and overall the plot is forced. Basically a dissappointing read.
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