The Interpretation Of Murder

Written by Jed Rubenfeld
Review by Colleen Quinn

In 1909, Sigmund Freud paid his one and only visit to the United States. He referred to Americans as “savages” for the rest of his life and never returned. The premise of Jed Rubenfeld’s novel is that Freud witnessed something terrible during his stay in New York City, something so horrible he could never bring himself to speak of it. Yes, he repressed it! If you can accept that a man capable of brilliant, sophisticated insights into the human condition could also be so short-sighted as to blame an entire society for the deviancy of one man, than what follows is a fast-paced mystery that whisks readers from Manhattan’s most fashionable addresses to the opium dens of Chinatown.

                Sigmund Freud amazes all over again, just on the brink of springing the new philosophy of psychoanalysis on the American public. The author is clearly very familiar with Freud’s work, and he manages to create an accurate, compelling portrait of the man and of the many strong characters involved in the birth of psychoanalysis. Unfortunately, the true historical figures are only minor characters in the plot, and the major characters are drawn far more thinly and forgettably; they serve to act out elements of one of Freud’s most famous case histories, but never really come to life on their own.

                It is inevitable that comparisons will be made between this book and Caleb Carr’s The Alienist. Same city, very close time frames, and similar styles force the reader to remember the earlier book, to which The Interpretation of Murder owes a large debt.