Friday, 20 May 2011

Book #38 The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

The Interpretation of Murder

Personally, I feel like the Crime genre is in a bit of a slump and nothing new has come out of it in a while. Authors seem to try and make their crime novel stand out by writing increasingly graphic, distasteful crimes or by making the investigator individually eccentric in some manner. By in large though they follow similar patterns.

Rubenfeld, (a Yale University lecturer with a first novel) puts his 'new take' on a crime thriller by making the main character psychoanalyst and society gentleman Stratham Younger, a disciple of Freud. He also places the novel in 1909 the year of Freud's first and only visit to America, thereby making Freud and Jung, historical people, fictional characters. There is of course a modern trend for this now, taking a well known person (long dead) and fictionalising them. It often leaves me wondering how fair it is, whether I would like a fictional and probably inaccurate depiction of myself bearing my name in some future novel, and which living people from this century will be subject to this treatment in our grand-children's time.

The twist with the focus on the psychoanalysis side of things is that Younger with Freud as a mentor begins to analyse a young woman who has been victim of an appalling crime using the tricks of their trade to get her to remember what happened. Younger's story is told in the first person, whilst the second strand, focusing on the ongoing investigation being run by a detective and a coroner is done in the third.

The book is a bit cobbled together, a bit too many ingredients in the recipe. A crime, the famous man and his famous visit, a couple of lacklustre love stories, a few thinly sketched similar villains, several twists and a quite over the top denouement, which strikes you as rather theatrical and camp.   
In addition you've got all the sexual deviance, which after the original crime just seems to be there for sheer titillation, the presence of Freud and therefore his sexual theories providing a handy excuse for its presence. It also had that certain crime cliche of the Agatha Christie era, "a sinister Chinaman" How dated.

I was reading the review of some other book on Amazon, and one reviewer described it as being on 'the Richard and Judy list of shame'. This book too, was a Richard and Judy selection. What I think the reviewer meant was that although Richard and Judy do not choose low-brow fiction nor do they choose high-brow fiction meaning that their selections tend to fall in the middle, neither one thing nor the other. A little original perhaps, but also not too challenging, not too offensive and a little bland.
Consequently the writing reflects this.

There are some interesting points, the various facts about the thoughts on psychiatry in that era, the impact of Freud on American culture and Younger's curious obsession with Hamlet, but all in all it's messy. It has a sequel 'The Death Instinct' which I picked up quite accidentally a few weeks ago, because I had an opportunity for a 3 for 2 and it was the nearest thing to hand. I'm not really sure if I'll bother with it though, it's a bit of a "won't get those hours back" scenario.

5 or 6/10

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