Interpretation of Murder

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Overview

International Bestseller

#1 U.K. Bestseller

The Wall Street Journal Bestseller

Los Angeles Times Bestseller

In the summer of 1909, Sigmund Freud arrived by steamship in New York Harbor for a short visit to America. Though he would live another thirty years, he would never return to this country. Little is known about the week he spent in ...

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Overview

International Bestseller

#1 U.K. Bestseller

The Wall Street Journal Bestseller

Los Angeles Times Bestseller

In the summer of 1909, Sigmund Freud arrived by steamship in New York Harbor for a short visit to America. Though he would live another thirty years, he would never return to this country. Little is known about the week he spent in Manhattan, and Freud's biographers have long speculated as to why, in his later years, he referred to Americans as "savages" and "criminals."

In The Interpretation of Murder, Jed Rubenfeld weaves the facts of Freud's visit into a riveting, atmospheric story of corruption and murder set all over turn-of-the-century New York. Drawing on case histories, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the historical details of a city on the brink of modernity, The Interpretation of Murder introduces a brilliant new storyteller, a novelist who, in the words of The New York Times, "will be no ordinary pop-cultural sensation."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld's debut novel is nothing short of a mystery masterwork; revolving around Sigmund Freud's only visit to America, in 1909, the book entangles the Father of Psychoanalysis in a criminal investigation involving a murderous sadist who preys on affluent young women in New York City.

Invited to the States to deliver a series of potentially controversial lectures on psychoanalysis (and to receive an honorary doctoral degree from Clark University), Freud -- accompanied by protégés Sándor Ferenczi and Carl Jung -- is welcomed by budding young American psychoanalyst Dr. Stratham Younger. Upon learning of a horrific crime recently committed on a young woman whose memories of the attack have been repressed, Freud enlists Younger to act as the victim's analyst in hopes of uncovering the attacker's identity. Meanwhile, as more bodies are found, greenhorn detective Jimmy Littlemore must deal with an ill-tempered coroner, a megalomaniacal mayor, and a corrupt real estate magnate in his efforts to unmask the killer. Throw in Hamlet, a little sadomasochism, and a healthy dose of the Oedipal complex, and you've got yourself an addictively readable historical thriller.

Comparable to recent mysteries like An Unpardonable Crime by Andrew Taylor and Matthew Pearl's Dante Club (featuring, respectively, Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) -- this historical whodunit is as intricate as Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and as thrilling as Caleb Carr's atmospheric classic The Alienist. If this singularly sensational debut is any indication, Jed Rubenfeld will be a name that mystery fans will not soon forget. Highly recommended. Paul Goat Allen
From the Publisher
"This baroque tale of egos and ids run rampant will be a welcome treat to fans of Caleb Carr's The Alienist. . . . Find a couch and prepare for a page-turning session."—Daily News (New York)

"A compelling, expertly crafted murder mystery . . . Carefully researched detail is just one reason The Interpretation of Murder is shaping up to be this year's Historian."—Entertainment Weekly (Must Reads selection)

"Using a dizzying number of points of view and keeping the action taut, Rubenfeld leavens the intellectual heft with sly wit."—People

"Proves once again that crime and literature need not be separate beasts."—Rocky Mountain News (grade: A)

"[A] brilliant conceit . . . Rubenfeld takes the reader on a beguiling tour of the opium dens of Chinatown, the haunts of the rich at Gramercy Park, and even the subterranean construction site of the Manhattan Bridge under the East River. . . . Dazzling."—The Independent (U.K.)

"Well researched . . . Jed Rubenfeld's entertaining psychological thriller is full of enjoyable twists and turns."—BookPage

"Rubenfeld has both smarts and an admirably depraved imagination."—Entertainment Weekly

"Rubenfeld's rendering of early-twentieth-century Manhattan is engrossing."—The Village Voice

"Rubenfeld knows how to keep readers turning pages. He steeps the story in history without waterlogging it, moving things along with well-crafted action scenes."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"A finely written and researched historical novel."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Rubenfeld kicks things into high gear right from the start. . . . The depth of research Rubenfeld engaged in is evident on nearly every page. And in great historical mystery novels, a lesson in civics and criminology is always the by-product, just as it is here. . . . A compelling mystery."—Pages

"Rubenfeld's provocative mystery debut . . . [he] renders rich, complex characters, vivid period detail, and prose riddled with heady references to Hamlet. He deftly blends fiction and fact, and his brisk, sinuous plot makes room for playful interpretations of the world according to Freud."—Booklist (starred review)

"A gloriously intelligent exploration of what might have happened to Sigmund Freud during his only visit to America. . . . Filled with period detail, this historical thriller challenges the reader to reason out the mystery. Rubenfeld shows great talent for psychological suspense. . . . Fans of Caleb Carr will adore this work."—Library Journal (starred review)

"Ambitious . . . Readers will learn much about Freud's relationship with his then-disciple Carl Jung, the building of the Manhattan Bridge, the early opponents of Freud's theories, and the central problem posed by Hamlet's 'to be or not to be' soliloquy. . . . This well-researched and thought-provoking novel is sure to be a crowd pleaser."—Publishers Weekly

"Meaty and provocative."—Kirkus Reviews

"The Interpretation of Murder is a bold page-turner that propels us from the start with a driving plot and intriguing characters, but also with ideas—a whole history of ideas. It's a richly motivated thriller that will make you reconsider the mysteries of Freud and Hamlet. Here is a novel that you'll only want to put down in order to think more about the book."—Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club

Janet Maslin
As The Interpretation of Murder races past ravished damsels, sinister aristocrats, architectural marvels (the building of the Manhattan Bridge), hysterical symptoms, a Hamlet-Freud nexus and downright criminal wordplay ("there are more things in heaven and earth, Herr Professor, than are dreamt in your psychology"; "sometimes a catarrh, I’m afraid, is only a catarrh"), it cobbles together its own brand of excitement. That excitement is as palpable as it is peculiar. In a book that pays too much homage to contemporary suspense templates, there are still deep reserves of insight, data, wit and anecdote upon which the author ingeniously draws.
— The New York Times
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. Simultaneous release with the Henry Holt hardcover (Reviews, July 10). (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This is a gloriously intelligent exploration of what might have happened to Sigmund Freud during his only visit to America. The tortured body of a young society woman is found in a posh New York apartment in the summer of 1909. A day later, beautiful Nora Acton is found with similar marks, only she has managed to survive the brutal attack. Freud, en route with Carl Jung to a speaking engagement in Boston, finds himself drawn into the investigation. He asks an American colleague to psychoanalyze Nora, who has repressed all memory of the attack. Meanwhile, a determined if inexperienced police detective follows another trail. Can Freud and his fellow psychoanalysts find the killer before he strikes again? Filled with period detail, this historical thriller challenges the reader to reason out the mystery. Rubenfeld (law, Yale Univ.; Revolution by Judiciary: The Structure of American Constitutional Law) shows great talent for psychological suspense and uses shifting viewpoints to build tension. Fans of Caleb Carr will adore this work. Given the publicity planned, it is highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/06.] Laurel Bliss, Princeton Univ. Lib., NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sigmund Freud and friends play Sherlock Holmes in an Alienist-style historical murder mystery. Human monsters stalk the teeming streets of early-20th-century New York City in Rubenfeld's ambitious debut. A sadist is assaulting rich society girls with whips and blades. Is the villain unscrupulous, wealthy entrepreneur George Banwell, who is mean to his horses and denies his gorgeous wife sexual intercourse because pregnancy would ruin her figure? Is it mysterious William Leon of Chinatown, in whose room one of the corpses is found? Or could Harry Thaw, notorious murderer of Stanford White, be slipping out from Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane? Freud, making his only visit to America, to lecture at Clark University, is in New York with a group of colleagues. Among them is one who seems crazy enough to be another murder suspect: Carl Jung. Carl has violent mood swings, carries a pocket revolver, lies about his ancestors and believes that he can hear supernatural voices. Freud's cohorts also include Dr. Stratham Younger, an American psychoanalyst given the job of analyzing lovely 17-year-old Nora Acton, who has survived an attack by the sex maniac but can't remember anything about it. Into this already-teeming stew, the author tosses a group of powerful grandees scheming to ruin Freud's visit and reputation, political corruption, the plight of the working poor, the coming psychological revolution, Oedipus, Hamlet and much more. Rubenfeld tends to slice and splice his chapters in cinematic fashion; Younger's first-person narration repeatedly jars with the remainder of the book's third-person perspective, often spoiling the buildup of tension. Other weaknessesinclude the author's failure to establish exactly who the central character is. Eventually, relying heavily on bait-and-switch, the story reaches its conclusion, giving Freud the last, prophetic word. Meaty and provocative, though also grandiose and calculated.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312427054
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 5/28/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 398,448
  • Product dimensions: 5.51 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Currently a professor of law at Yale University, Jed Rubenfeld is one of this country's foremost experts on constitutional law. He wrote his Princeton undergraduate thesis on Sigmund Freud and studied Shakespeare at Julliard. He lives in Connecticut.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There is no mystery to happiness.

Unhappy men are all 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 yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn't look ahead. He lives in the present.

But there's the rub. The present can never deliver one thing: meaning. The ways of happiness and meaning are not the same. To find happiness, a man need only live in the moment; he need only live for the moment. But if he wants meaning—the meaning of his dreams, his secrets, his life—a man must reinhabit his past, however dark, and live for the future, however uncertain. Thus nature dangles happiness and meaning before us all, insisting only that we choose between them.

For myself, I have always chosen meaning. Which, I suppose, is how I came to be waiting in the swelter and mob of Hoboken Harbor on Sunday evening, August 29, 1909, for the arrival of the Norddeutsche Lloyd steamship George Washington, bound from Bremen, carrying to our shores the one man in the world I wanted most to meet.

At 7 p.m. there was still no sign of the ship. Abraham Brill, my friend and fellow physician, was waiting at the harbor for the same reason as I. He could hardly contain himself, fidgeting and smoking incessantly. The heat was murderous, the air thick with the reek of fish. An unnatural fog rose from the water, as if the sea were steaming. Horns sounded heavily out in the deeper water, their sources invisible. Even the keening gulls could be only heard, not seen. A ridiculous premonition came to me that the George Washington had run aground in the fog, her twenty-five hundred European passengers drowning at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Twilight came, but the temperature did not abate. We waited.

All at once, the vast white ship appeared—not as a dot on the horizon, but mammoth, emerging from the mist full-blown before our eyes. The entire pier, with a collective gasp, drew back at the apparition. But the spell was broken by the outbreak of harbormen's cries, the flinging and catching of rope, the bustle and jostle that followed. Within minutes, a hundred stevedores were unloading freight.

Brill, yelling at me to follow, shouldered through to the gangway. His entreaties to board were rebuffed; no one was being let on or off the ship. It was another hour before Brill yanked at my sleeve and pointed to three passengers descending the bridge. The first of the trio was a distinguished, immaculately groomed, gray-haired, and gray-bearded gentleman whom I knew at once to be the Viennese psychiatrist Dr. Sigmund Freud.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, an architectural paroxysm shook New York City. Gigantic towers called skyscrapers soared up one after the other, higher than anything built by the hand of man before. At a ribbon-cutting on Liberty Street in 1908, the top hats applauded as Mayor McClellan declared the forty-seven-story redbrick and bluestone Singer Building the world's tallest structure. Eighteen months later, the mayor had to repeat the same ceremony at the fifty-story Metropolitan Life tower on Twenty-fourth Street. But even then, they were already breaking ground for Mr. Woolworth's staggering fifty-eight-story ziggurat back downtown.

On every block, enormous steel-beam skeletons appeared where empty lots had been the day before. The smash and scream of steam shovels never ceased. The only comparison was with Haussmann's transformation of Paris a half century earlier, but in New York there was no single vision behind the scenes, no unifying plan, no disciplining authority. Capital and speculation drove everything, releasing fantastic energies, distinctly American and individualistic.

The masculinity of it all was undeniable. On the ground, the implacable Manhattan grid, with its two hundred numbered east-west streets and twelve north-south avenues, gave the city a stamp of abstract rectilinear order. Above this, in the immensity of the towering structures, with their peacock-like embellishments, it was all ambition, speculation, competition, domination, even lust—for height, size, and always money.

The Balmoral, on the Boulevard—New Yorkers at the time referred to Broadway from Fifty-ninth to 155th Street as the Boulevard—was one of the grand new edifices. Its very existence was a gamble. In 1909, the very rich still lived in houses, not apartments. They "kept" apartments for short or seasonal stays in the city, but they failed to comprehend how anybody could actually live in one. The Balmoral was a bet: that the rich could be induced to change their minds if the accommodations were sufficiently opulent.

The Balmoral rose seventeen stories, higher and grander than any apartment building—any residential building—had ever climbed before. Its four wings occupied an entire city block. Its lobby, where seals cavorted in a Roman fountain, shone with white Carrara marble. Chandeliers in every apartment sparkled with Murano glass. The smallest dwelling had eight rooms; the largest boasted fourteen bedrooms, seven baths, a grand ballroom with a twenty-foot ceiling, and full maid's service. This rented for the appalling sum of $495 a month.

The owner of the Balmoral, Mr. George Banwell, enjoyed the enviable position of being unable to lose money on it. His investors had advanced $6,000,000 toward its construction, of which he had kept not a penny, scrupulously remitting the entire amount to the builder, the American Steel and Fabrication Company. The owner of this firm, however, was also Mr. George Banwell, and the actual construction cost was $4,200,000. On January 1, 1909, six months before the Balmoral was to open, Mr. Banwell announced that all but two of the apartments were already let. The announcement was pure invention, but it was believed, and therefore within three weeks it was so. Mr. Banwell had mastered the great truth that truth itself, like buildings, can be manufactured.

The Balmoral's exterior belonged to the Beaux-Arts school at its most flamboyant. Crowning the roofline were a quartet of thirteen-foot floor-to-ceiling glass-paned concrete arches, one at each corner of the property. Because these great arched windows gave off the top floor's four master bedrooms, someone standing outside them could have had a very compromising view inside. On Sunday night, August 29, the view from outside the Alabaster Wing would have been shocking indeed. A slender young woman was standing within, lit by a dozen flickering candles, barely clothed, exquisitely proportioned, her wrists tied together over her head, and her throat embraced by another binding, a man's white silk tie, which a strong hand was making tight, exceedingly tight, causing her to choke.

Her entire body glistened in the unbearable August heat. Her long legs were bare, as were her arms. Her elegant shoulders were nearly bare as well. The girl's consciousness was fading. She tried to speak. There was a question she had to ask. It was there; it was gone. Then she had it again. "My name," she whispered. "What is my name?"

Dr. Freud, I was relieved to see, did not look like a madman at all. His countenance was authoritative, his head well formed, his beard pointed, neat, professional. He was about five-foot-eight, roundish, but quite fit and solid for a man of fifty-three. His suit was of excellent cloth, with a watch chain and cravat in the continental style. Altogether, he looked remarkably sound for a man just off a week's voyage at sea.

His eyes were another matter. Brill had warned me about them. As Freud descended the ship's ramp, his eyes were fearsome, as if he were in a towering temper. Perhaps the calumny he had long endured in Europe had worked a permanent scowl into his brow. Or perhaps he was unhappy to be in America. Six months ago, when President Hall of Clark University—my employer—first invited Freud to the United States, he turned us down. We were not sure why. Hall persisted, explaining that Clark wished to confer on Freud the university's highest academic honor, to make him the centerpiece of our twentieth-anniversary celebrations, and to have him deliver a series of lectures on psychoanalysis, the first ever to be given in America. In the end Freud accepted. Was he now regretting his decision?

All these speculations, I soon saw, were unfounded. As he stepped off the gangway, Freud lit a cigar—his first act on American soil—and the moment he did so the scowl vanished, a smile came to his face, and all the seeming choler drained away. He inhaled deeply and looked about him, taking in the harbor's size and chaos with what looked like amusement.

Brill greeted Freud warmly. They knew each other from Europe; Brill had even been to Freud's home in Vienna. He had described that evening to me—the charming Viennese house filled with antiquities, the doting and doted-on children, the hours of electrifying conversation—so often I knew his stories by heart.

From nowhere a knot of reporters appeared; they gathered around Freud and yelled out questions, mostly in German. He answered with good humor but seemed baffled that an interview should be conducted in so haphazard a fashion. At last Brill shooed them away and pulled me forward.

"Allow me," Brill said to Freud, "to present Dr. Stratham Younger, a recent graduate of Harvard University, now teaching at Clark, and sent down by Hall specially to take care of you during your week in New York. Younger is without question the most talented American psychoanalyst. Of course, he is also the only American psychoanalyst."

"What," said Freud to Brill, "you don't call yourself an analyst, Abraham?"

"I don't call myself American," Brill replied. "I am one of Mr. Roosevelt's 'hyphenated Americans,' for which, as he says, there is no room in this country."

Freud addressed me. "I am always delighted," he said in excellent English, "to meet a new member of our little movement, but especially here in America, for which I have such hopes." He begged me to thank President Hall for the honor Clark had bestowed on him.

"The honor is ours, sir," I replied, "but I'm afraid I hardly qualify as a psychoanalyst."

"Don't be a fool," said Brill, "of course you do." He then introduced me to Freud's two traveling companions. "Younger, meet the eminent Sándor Ferenczi of Budapest, whose name is synonymous throughout Europe with mental disorder. And here is the still more eminent Carl Jung of Zurich, whose Dementia will one day be known all over the civilized world."

"Most happy," said Ferenczi in a strong Hungarian accent, "most happy. But please to ignore Brill; everyone does, I assure you." Ferenczi was an affable sandy-haired fellow in his late thirties, brightly attired in a white suit. You could see that he and Brill were genuine friends. Physically, they made a nice contrast. Brill was among the shortest men I knew, with close-set eyes and a wide flat-topped head. Ferenczi, although not tall, had long arms, long fingers, and a receding hairline that elongated his face as well.

I liked Ferenczi at once, but I had never before shaken a hand that offered no resistance whatsoever, less than a joint of meat at the butcher's. It was embarrassing: he let out a yelp and yanked his fingers away as if they had been crushed. I apologized profusely, but he insisted he was glad to "start learning right away American walls," a remark at which I could only nod in polite agreement.

Jung, who was about thirty-five, made a markedly different impression. He was better than six feet tall, unsmiling, blue-eyed, dark-haired, with an aquiline nose, a pencil-thin mustache, and a great expanse of forehead—quite attractive to women, I should have thought, although he lacked Freud's ease. His hand was firm and cold as steel. Standing ramrod straight, he might have been a lieutenant in the Swiss Guard, except for his little round scholarly spectacles. The affection Brill clearly felt for Freud and Ferenczi was nowhere in evidence when he shook Jung's hand.

"How was your passage, gentlemen?" asked Brill. We could not go anywhere; our guests' trunks had to be collected. "Not too wearisome?"

"Capital," said Freud. "You won't believe it: I found a steward reading my Psychopathology of Everyday Life."

"No!" Brill replied. "Ferenczi must have put him up to it."

"Put him up?" Ferenczi cried out. "I did no such—"

Freud took no notice of Brill's comment. "It may have been the most gratifying moment of my professional life, which does not perhaps reflect too well on my professional life. Recognition is coming to us, my friends: recognition, slowly but surely."

"Did the crossing take long, sir?" I inquired idiotically.

"A week," Freud answered, "and we spent it in the most productive way possible: we analyzed each other's dreams."

"Good God," said Brill. "I wish I had been there. What were the results, in the name of heaven?"

"Well, you know," Ferenczi returned, "analysis is rather like being undressed in public. After you overcome initial humiliation, is quite refreshing."

"That's what I tell all my patients," said Brill, "especially the women. And what about you, Jung? Did you also find the humiliation refreshing?"

Jung, almost a foot taller than Brill, looked down on him as if at a laboratory specimen. "It is not quite accurate," he replied, "to say the three of us analyzed each other."

"True," Ferenczi confirmed. "Freud rather analyzed us, while Jung and I crossed interpretative swords with each other."

"What?" Brill exclaimed. "You mean no one dared to analyze the Master?"

"No one was permitted to," said Jung, betraying no affect.

"Yes, yes," said Freud, with a knowing smile, "but you all analyze me to death as soon as my back is turned, don't you, Abraham?"

"We do indeed," Brill replied, "because we are all good sons, and we know our Oedipal duty."

In the apartment high above the city, a set of instruments lay on the bed behind the bound girl. From left to right, there were: a man's right-angled razor, with a bone handle; a black leather riding crop about two feet in length; three surgical knives, in ascending order of size; and a small vial half full of a clear fluid. The assailant considered and picked up one of these instruments.

Seeing the shadow of the man's razor flickering on the far wall, the girl shook her head. Again she tried to cry out, but the constriction of her throat reduced her plea to a whisper.

From behind her came a low voice: "You want me to wait?"

She nodded.

"I can't." The victim's wrists, crossed and suspended together over her head, were so slight, her fingers so graceful, her long legs so demure. "I can't wait." The girl winced as the gentlest possible stroke was administered to one of her bare thighs. A stroke, that is, of the razor, which left a vivid scarlet wake as it traced her skin. She cried out, her back curved in exactly the same arch as the great windows, her raven hair flowing down her back. A second stroke, to the other thigh, and the girl cried out again, more sharply.

"No," the voice admonished calmly. "No screaming."

The girl could only shake her head, uncomprehending.

"You must make a different sound."

The girl shook her head again. She wanted to speak but couldn't.

"Yes. You must. I know you can. I told you how. Don't you remember?" The razor was now replaced on the bed. On the far wall, in the wavering candlelight, the girl saw the shadow of the leather crop rising up instead. "You want it. Sound as if you want it. You must make that kind of sound." Gently but implacably, the silk tie around the girl's throat drew tighter. "Make it."

She tried to do as she was bid, moaning softly—a woman's moan, a supplicating moan, which she had never made before.

"Good. Like that."

Holding the end of the white tie in one hand and the leather crop in the other, the assailant brought the latter down upon the girl's back. She made the sound again. Another lash, harder. The sting caused the girl to cry out, but she caught herself and made the other sound instead.

"Better." The next blow landed not on her back but just below it. She opened her mouth, but at the same moment the tie was drawn still tighter, choking her. Her choking, in turn, made her moan seem more genuine, more broken, an effect her tormentor evidently liked. Another blow, and another and another, louder and faster, fell on all the softest parts of her body, rending her garments, leaving glowing marks on her white skin. With every lash, despite the searing pain, the girl moaned as she had been told to do, her cries coming louder and faster too.

The rain of blows stopped. She would have collapsed long before, but the rope from the ceiling, tied to her wrists, kept her upright. Her body was now scored with lacerations. Blood ran down in one or two places. For a moment all went dark for her; then the flickering light returned. A shiver passed through her.

Her eyes opened. Her lips moved. "Tell me my name," she tried to whisper, but no one heard.

The assailant, studying the girl's lovely neck, loosened the silk binding around it. For one instant she breathed freely, her head still flung back, the waves of black hair flowing to her waist. Then the tie around her throat went taut again.

The girl could no longer see distinctly. She felt a hand on her mouth, its fingers running lightly over her lips. Then those fingers drew the silk tie yet tighter, so that even her choking stopped. The candlelight went out for her again. This time it did not return.

"There is train below river?" asked Sándor Ferenczi incredulously.

Not only did such a train exist, Brill and I assured him, but we were going to ride it. In addition to the new tunnel across the Hudson River, the Hoboken tube boasted another innovation: full baggage service. All a voyager arriving in the United States had to do was mark his luggage with the name of his hotel in Manhattan. Porters stowed the trunks in the train's baggage car, and handlers on the other end did the rest. Taking advantage of this amenity, we walked out onto the platform, which overlooked the river. With the setting of the sun, the fog had lifted, revealing the jagged Manhattan skyline, studded with electric lights. Our guests stared in wonder: at the sheer expanse of it, and at the spires piercing the clouds.

"It's the center of the world," said Brill.

"I dreamt of Rome last night," Freud replied.

We waited on pins and needles—at least I did—for him to go on.

Freud drew on his cigar. "I was walking, alone," he said. "Night had just fallen, as it has now. I came upon a shop window with a jewelry box. That of course means a woman. I looked around. To my embarrassment, I had wandered into an entire neighborhood of bordellos."

A debate ensued on whether Freud's teachings dictated defiance of conventional sexual morality. Jung held that they did; indeed, he maintained that anyone who failed to see this implication had not understood Freud. The whole point of psychoanalysis, he said, was that society's prohibitions were ignorant and unhealthy. Only cowardice would make men submit to civilized morality once they had understood Freud's discoveries.

Brill and Ferenczi vigorously disagreed. Psychoanalysis demanded that a man be conscious of his true sexual wishes, not that he succumb to them. "When we hear a patient's dream," said Brill, "we interpret it. We don't tell the patient to fulfill the wishes he is unconsciously expressing. I don't, at any rate. Do you, Jung?"

I noticed both Brill and Ferenczi sneaking glances at Freud as they elaborated his ideas—hoping, I supposed, to find endorsement. Jung never did. He either had, or affected having, perfect confidence in his position. As for Freud, he intervened on neither side, apparently content to watch the debate unfold.

"Some dreams do not require interpretation," Jung said; "they require action. Consider Herr Professor Freud's dream last night of prostitutes. The meaning is not in doubt: suppressed libido, stimulated by our anticipated arrival in a new world. There is no point talking about such a dream." Here Jung turned to Freud. "Why not act on it? We are in America; we can do what we like."

For the first time, Freud broke in: "I am a married man, Jung."

"So am I," Jung replied.

Freud raised an eyebrow, nodding, but made no reply. I informed our party that it was time to board the train. Freud took a last look over the railing. A stiff wind blew in our faces. As we all gazed at the lights of Manhattan, he smiled. "If they only knew what we are bringing them."

Copyright © 2006 by Jed Rubenfeld. All rights reserved.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2012

    One of the best ive read in a while

    Ive been looking for a while for that next book that made me excited for my morning commute and that was equally hard to put down once at the office. I even reread the girl with the dragon tatto series. Bu this was so great. The plot kept me turning pages, the heroes were extremely likable, and then there are the extra insights to early 20th century new york, psychoanalysis and shakespere. I loved it so much i read right through the authors note and all the extra notes at the end that most skip. The writing was fluid and insightful, i utterly loved it. Will be checking for other titles from the author in the future.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2008

    Very poor attempt at historical fiction

    Rubenfeld's portrayal of Carl Jung as a borderline psychotic is utterly absurd, but no more so than his fawning depiction of Freud 'who comes across as a kind of uber-Sherlock Holmes'. One wonders why Rubenfeld even bothered putting historical figures into his novel when they bore not a trace of resemblance to the actual men in question (the author's spurious claim to the contrary notwithstanding). The murder mystery itself is only passable, and the only reason for the inclusion of the first-person narrator is obviously so that Rubenfeld can supply descriptions of turn-of-the-century New York. The only characters possessing even an ounce of interest are the two N.Y. Police Detectives, whose interactions are laced with genuine humor. If Rubenfeld had chosen to concentrate his work on them, he might have come up with a moderately entertaining mystery. Alas, he did not.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2011

    Freudian Thriller

    This fascinating story, which begins in New York in 1909, tells of the one and only visit of Sigmund Freud to the United States, and the problems he encounters during his time there. He arrives with two of his disciples, Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi, and is immediately embroiled in controversies surrounding his treatment and methods. A murder occurs, then an attack with similar characteristics happens on the following day, and Freud is asked to quiz the victim in an attempt to identify the attacker, but he passes the case to an American colleague. As the story unfolds, with many twists and turns, the protagonists are led a merry dance by the mastermind behind the crimes, and the reader will be kept in the dark until the very last page. Freud and Jung encounter great resistance to their ideas regarding psychoanalysis of patients and they are looked on with scepticism by the police and the medical profession. A sub plot sees Carl Jung trying to establish his particular brand of analysis, seeking to further his own career and move out of the shadow of his mentor, Freud. This causes tension between the two men, and misunderstandings arise between Freud and his American sponsors who have brought him to the country to publicize his theories through public appearances and speeches. Stratham Young, a physician and follower of Freud, is part of the welcoming committee, and becomes caught up in the criminal investigation, and becomes infatuated with one of the victims, thereby clouding his professional judgement. The character of Charles Hugel, the New York coroner, gives us an insight into the early days of forensic science and the difficulties of implementing this new branch of police detection. Apart from the constant ruminations by Stratham Young regarding Hamlet and the Oedipus complex, this is a very well written and informative book, and I recommend it highly.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2009

    Great Book. Great Read.

    Fantastic book. I've read a lot of historical fiction books. This is, very close to, if not the, best of them all. Original but not "contrived." It is an interesting book with roller-coaster thrills and spills. But the valley's are as interesting as the peaks are thrilling. Its intellectually stimulating as well as entertaining. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Posted October 9, 2009

    Quite Good

    Very interesting if you know anything about Freud and Jung and/or their theories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2009

    Bored!

    I tried to read this book..really I did. But it was just so boring and never really went anywhere. Eventually, gave up trying to read it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2007

    Author! Author!

    Oh how I wish that I had had the opportunity to have read this book sooner. While it has been stated by some that the book was written rather as discourse than a 'thriller,' Mr. Rubenfeld should pat himself on the back for accomplishing a most difficult feat: that of intertwining the mystery plot with psychological conventionalities,particularly of the given time period. I believe this book is not meant for everyone, given the notable extent of research evident in the intricacies of time, location, human behaviors, and the mysterious conundrum. With degrees in, both, Psychology and Eng/Ame Literature, I opine that the psychoanalytic concepts 'Oedipus relationships etc.' conversely gave impetus to the storyline's success. Through simplification of those concepts, Rubenfeld clinched the five W's within the web of mystery, enticing the anxious reader to follow through to the story's denouement. As for the reveiwer's' from the book club: it is perhaps to their advantage to take on a book with less complexities, maintaining a reading more suited to their level. I applaud you, Mr. Rubenfeld and await your future literary ventures.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2007

    Psychoanalytical Fun!

    A fast paced, well written novel, that from the beginning to end you are at the edge of your seat. It is very interesting to know the old fashion methods of crime investigation in those times, and the way they detained people back then. You can't help but to think of a Noir setting when you are reading the novel, but the fast action of the story clearly marks the detective theme. The author¿s conclusion to Shakespeare¿s 'to be or not to be' is quite genius. It is good book that addresses many facts of that era, something that you do not get in many books. Read it and enjoy it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2007

    Great book to feed your id!!!

    What a great book, I couldn't put it down. The short chapters and changing viewpoints made it an interesting read. This book is a great mix of mystery and psychology. Expect to read and learn more about Freudian Psychology and psychoanalysis, hence, the storyline set around Freud's trip to the US in 1909. I highly recommend it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2007

    Disappointing

    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 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

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2006

    Fairly well researched but a VERY BORING book ...

    Sorry, but the thriller aspect of this book just wasnt' there. The author tries hard to dupe the now oft-used blend of smarts and thriller and he succeeds on the former but fails miserably on the latter. The Freud discourses are too long and at times are quite misleading. Stick with the names we all know already they do this type of book MUCH better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2006

    Oh Momma, What A Book...And That's No Freudian Slip!

    In Rubenfeld's fictional debut, he's created an excellent historical thriller about a killer attacking Manhattan's wealthy heiresses and features Sigmund Freud as well as several other interesting, well-developed characters. The plot is very interesting and intelligent, and weaves a full blend of crime, Shakespearean puzzles, psychological mysteries and historical facts about NYC in the beginning of the twentieth century. It's been quite awhile since I've enjoyed a book as much as The Interpretation Of Murder and I highly recommend it. This is one book I fully expect to live up to the pre-publication hype it has generated. Do yourself a favor and read this spellbinding book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2006

    Why trash Jung?

    I received an ARC of this title and was looking forward to reading it, but I was bitterly disappointed. What would otherwise have been for me an entertaining, historical mystery was ruined by the author's portrayal of Carl Jung. Consistently throughout this book the author paints Jung as self-absorbed, treacherous, anti-semitic and otherwise racist, duplicitous, and elitist. It is as though the author--a biographer of Freud--felt that the only way to present Freud in the best way was to attack Jung. I do not understand what the book's relentless animus against Jung brought to its value. As a detective novel, Jung-bashing aside, it will serve.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2006

    interesting historical mystery

    In 1909, Dr. Sigmund Freud and his retinue leave Vienna for New York before journeying on to lecture at Clark University in Massachusetts. At about the same time that the Austrian left the steamship George Washington for the Balmoral, someone brutally kills Elizabeth Riverford, whose battered corpse was left hanging from a chandelier in an upscale apartment. The next day wealthy seventeen years old Nora Acton barely escapes with her life, but suffers selective amnesia, unable to remember anything about the violent encounter. --- Local Freudian analyst Dr. Stratham Younger asks Dr. Freud to mentor him as he works with Nora. Freud agrees to help the young woman regain her memory, which would identify the killer. As Freud also investigates the crimes committed by a sexual predator on wealthy upper class females, he finds a horde of suspects capable of using whips, knives, chains, and other ilk on women especially an immoral entrepreneur, the killer of architect Stanford White, and Freud¿s protégé Carl Jung. --- This is an interesting historical mystery that at times can be difficult to read as the subject of psychoanalytical theory of the period supersedes the cast and the investigation. Readers will appreciate the hero adulation Younger (and the author) have for Freud though it turns the Father of Modern Psychology more into a perfect legend than a full blooded individual with flaws. Many readers will find the portrayal of Jung as an insane violent lunatic a shocker (don¿t know how true this is though Jung did suffer a breakdown after his split from Freud). Though the whodunit takes a back seat to the beginning of psychiatry in America as the fascinating plot builds from Freud¿s only visit here THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER showcases the early history of psychoanalysis. --- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2009

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