From a true and shocking event-the bombing of lower Manhattan in September 1920-Jed Rubenfeld weaves a twisting and thrilling work of fiction as a physician, a female radiochemist, and a police official come to believe that the inexplicable attack is only part of a larger plan. It's a conspiracy that takes them from Paris to Prague, from the Vienna home of Sigmund Freud to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and ultimately to the depths of our most savage human instincts where there lies the shocking truth behind that fateful day.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.14(w) x 8.52(h) x 1.23(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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On a clear September day in lower Manhattan, the financial center of the United States became the site of the most massive terrorist attack that had ever occurred on American soil. It was 1920. Despite the then largest criminal investigation in United States history, the identity of the perpetrators remains a mystery.
Death is only the beginning; afterward comes the hard part.
There are three ways to live with the knowledge of deathto keep its terror at bay. The first is suppression: forget it's coming; act as if it isn't. That's what most of us do most of the time. The second is the opposite: memento mori. Remember death. Keep it constantly in mind, for surely life can have no greater savor than when a man believes today is his last. The third is acceptance. A man who accepts deathreally accepts itfears nothing and hence achieves a transcendent equanimity in the face of all loss. All three of these strategies have something in common. They're lies. Terror, at least, would be honest.
But there is another way, a fourth way. This is the inadmissible option, the path no man can speak of, not even to himself, not even in the quiet of his own inward conversation. This way requires no forgetting, no lying, no groveling at the altar of the inevitable. All it takes is instinct.
At the stroke of noon on September 16, 1920, the bells of Trinity Church began to boom, and as if motivated by a single spring, doors flew open up and down Wall Street, releasing clerks and message boys, secretaries and stenographers, for their precious hour of lunch. They poured into the streets, streaming around cars, lining up at favorite vendors, filling in an instant the busy intersection of Wall, Nassau, and Broad, an intersection known in the financial world as the Cornerjust that, the Corner. There stood the United States Treasury, with its Greek temple facade, guarded by a regal bronze George Washington. There stood the white-columned New York Stock Exchange. There, J. P. Morgan's domed fortress of a bank.
In front of that bank, an old bay mare pawed at the cobblestones, hitched to an overloaded, burlap-covered cartpilotless and blocking traffic. Horns sounded angrily behind it. A stout cab driver exited his vehicle, arms upraised in righteous appeal. Attempting to berate the cartman, who wasn't there, the taxi driver was surprised by an odd, muffled noise coming from inside the wagon. He put his ear to the burlap and heard an unmistakable sound: ticking.
The church bells struck twelve. With the final, sonorous note still echoing, a curious taxi driver drew back one corner of moth-eaten burlap and saw what lay beneath. At that moment, among the jostling thousands, four people knew that death was pregnant in Wall Street: the cab driver; a redheaded woman close by him; the missing pilot of the horse-drawn wagon; and Stratham Younger, who, one hundred fifty feet away, pulled to their knees a police detective and a French girl.
The taxi driver whispered, "Lord have mercy."
Wall Street exploded.
Two women, once upon a time the best of friends, meeting again after years apart, will cry out in disbelief, embrace, protest, and immediately take up the missing pieces of their lives, painting them in for one another with all the tint and vividness they can. Two men, under the same conditions, have nothing to say at all.
At eleven that morning, one hour before the explosion, Younger and Jimmy Littlemore shook hands in Madison Square, two miles north of Wall Street. The day was unseasonably fine, the sky a crystal blue. Younger took out a cigarette.
"Been a while, Doc," said Littlemore.
Younger struck, lit, nodded.
Both men were in their thirties, but of different physical types. Littlemore, a detective with the New York Police Department, was the kind of man who mixed easily into his surroundings. His height was average, his weight average, the color of his hair average; even his features were average, a composite of American openness and good health. Younger, by contrast, was arresting. He was tall; he moved well; his skin was a little weathered; he had the kind of imperfections in a handsome face that women like. In short, the doctor's appearance was more demanding than the detective's, but less amiable.
"How's the job?" asked Younger.
"Job's good," said Littlemore, a toothpick wagging between his lips.
Another difference between them was visible as well. Younger had fought in the war; Littlemore had not. Younger, walking away from his medical practice in Boston and his scientific research at Harvard, had enlisted immediately after war was declared in 1917. Littlemore would have tooif he hadn't had a wife and so many children to provide for.
"That's good," said Younger.
"So are you going to tell me," asked Littlemore, "or do I have to pry it out of you with a crowbar?"
Younger smoked. "Crowbar."
"You call me after all this time, tell me you got something to tell me, and now you're not going to tell me?"
"This is where they had the big victory parade, isn't it?" asked Younger, looking around at Madison Square Park, with its greenery, monuments, and ornamental fountain. "What happened to the arch?"
"Tore it down."
"Why were men so willing to die?"
"Who was?" asked Littlemore.
"It doesn't make sense. From an evolutionary point of view." Younger looked back at Littlemore. "I'm not the one who needs to talk to you. It's Colette."
"The girl you brought back from France?" said Littlemore.
"She should be here any minute. If she's not lost."
"What's she look like?"
Younger thought about it: "Pretty." A moment later, he added, "Here she is."
A double-decker bus had pulled up nearby on Fifth Avenue. Littlemore turned to look; the toothpick nearly fell out of his mouth. A girl in a slim trench coat was coming down the outdoor spiral staircase. The two men met her as she stepped off.
Colette Rousseau kissed Younger once on either cheek and extended a slender arm to Littlemore. She had green eyes, graceful movements, and long dark hair.
"Glad to meet you, Miss," said the detective, recovering gamely.
She eyed him. "So you're Jimmy," she replied, taking him in. "The best and bravest man Stratham has ever known."
Littlemore blinked. "He said that?"
"I also told her your jokes aren't funny," added Younger.
Colette turned to Younger: "You should have come to the radium clinic. They've cured a sarcoma. And a rhinoscleroma. How can a little hospital in America have two whole grams of radium when there isn't one in all of France?"
"I didn't know rhinos had an aroma," said Littlemore.
"Shall we go to lunch?" asked Younger.
Where Colette alighted from the bus, a monumental triple arch had only a few months earlier spanned the entirety of Fifth Avenue. In March of 1919, vast throngs cheered as homecoming soldiers paraded beneath the triumphal Roman arch, erected to celebrate the nation's victory in the Great War. Ribbons swirled, balloons flew, cannons saluted, andbecause Prohibition had not yet arrivedcorks popped.
But the soldiers who received this hero's welcome woke the next morning to discover a city with no jobs for them. Wartime boom had succumbed to postwar collapse. The churning factories boarded up their windows. Stores closed. Buying and selling ground to a halt. Families were put out on the streets with nowhere to go.
The Victory Arch was supposed to have been solid marble. Such extravagance having become unaffordable, it had been built of wood and plaster instead. When the weather came, the paint peeled, and the arch began to crumble. It was demolished before winter was outabout the same time the country went dry.
The colossal, dazzlingly white and vanished arch lent a tremor of ghostliness to Madison Square. Colette felt it. She even turned to see if someone might be watching her. But she turned the wrong way. She didn't look across Fifth Avenue, where, beyond the speeding cars and rattling omnibuses, a pair of eyes was in fact fixed upon her.
These belonged to a female figure, solitary, still, her cheeks gaunt and pallid, so skeletal in stature that, to judge by appearance, she couldn't have threatened a child. A kerchief hid most of her dry red hair, and a worn-out dress from the previous century hung to her ankles. It was impossible to tell her age: she might have been an innocent fourteen or a bony fifty-five. There was, however, a peculiarity about her eyes. The irises, of the palest blue, were flecked with brownish-yellow impurities like corpses floating in a tranquil sea.
Among the vehicles blocking this woman's way across Fifth Avenue was an approaching delivery truck, drawn by a horse. She cast her composed gaze on it. The trotting animal saw her out of the corner of an eye. It balked and reared. The truck driver shouted; vehicles swerved, tires screeched. There were no collisions, but a clear path opened up through the traffic. She crossed Fifth Avenue unmolested.
Littlemore led them to a street cart next to the subway steps, proposing that they have "dogs" for lunch, which required the men to explain to an appalled French girl the ingredients of that recent culinary sensation, the hot dog. "You'll like it, Miss, I promise," said Littlemore.
"I will?" she replied dubiously.
Reaching the near side of Fifth Avenue, the kerchiefed woman placed a blue-veined hand on her abdomen. This was evidently a sign or command. Not far away, the park's flowing fountain ceased to spray, and as the last jets of water fell to the basin, another redheaded woman came into view, so like the first as almost to be a reflection, but less pale, less skeletal, her hair flowing unhindered. She too put a hand on her abdomen. In her other hand was a pair of scissors with strong, curving blades. She set off toward Colette.
"Ketchup, Miss?" asked Littlemore. "Most take mustard, but I say ketchup. There you go."
Colette accepted the hot dog awkwardly. "All right, I'll try."
Using both hands, she took a bite. The two men watched. So did the two red-haired women, approaching from different directions. And so did a third redheaded figure next to a flagpole near Broadway, who wore, in addition to a kerchief over her head, a gray wool scarf wrapped more than once around her neck.
"But it's good!" said Colette. "What did you put on yours?"
"Sauerkraut, Miss," replied Littlemore. "It's kind of a sour, kraut-y"
"She knows what sauerkraut is," said Younger.
"You want some?" asked Littlemore.
The woman under the flagpole licked her lips. Hurrying New Yorkers passed on either side, taking no notice of heror of her scarf, which the weather didn't justify, and which seemed to bulge out strangely from her throat. She raised a hand to her mouth; emaciated fingertips touched parted lips. She began walking toward the French girl.
"How about downtown?" said Littlemore. "Would you like to see the Brooklyn Bridge, Miss?"
"Very much," said Colette.
"Follow me," said the detective, throwing the vendor two bits for a tip and walking to the top of the subway stairs. He checked his pockets: "Shootwe need another nickel."
The street vendor, overhearing the detective, began to rummage through his change box when he caught sight of three strangely similar figures approaching his cart. The first two had joined together, fingers touching as they walked. The third advanced by herself from the opposite direction, holding her thick wool scarf to her throat. The vendor's long fork slipped from his hand and disappeared into a pot of simmering water. He stopped looking for nickels.
"I have one," said Younger.
"Let's go," replied Littlemore. He trotted down the stairs. Colette and Younger followed. They were lucky: a downtown train was entering the station; they just made it. Halfway out of the station, the train lurched to a halt. Its doors creaked ajar, snapped shut, then jerked open again. Evidently some latecomers had induced the conductor to let them on.
In the narrow arteries of lower Manhattanthey had emerged at City HallYounger, Colette, and Littlemore were swept up in the capillary crush of humanity. Younger inhaled deeply. He loved the city's teemingness, its purposiveness, its belligerence. He was a confident man; he always had been. By American standards, Younger was very wellborn: a Schermerhorn on his mother's side, a close cousin to the Fishes of New York and, through his father, the Cabots of Boston. This exalted genealogy, a matter of indifference to him now, had disgusted him as a youth. The sense of superiority his class enjoyed struck him as so patently undeserved that he'd resolved to do the opposite of everything expected of himuntil the night his father died, when necessity descended, the world became real, and the whole issue of social class ceased to be of interest.
But those days were long past, scoured away by years of unstinting work, accomplishment, and war, and on this New York morning, Younger experienced a feeling almost of invulnerability. This was, however, he reflected, probably only the knowledge that no snipers lay hidden with your head in their sights, no shells were screaming through the air to relieve you of your legs. Unless perhaps it was the opposite: that the pulse of violence was so atmospheric in New York that a man who had fought in the war could breathe here, could be at home, could flex muscles still pricked by the feral after-charge of uninhibited killingwithout making himself a misfit or a monster.
"Shall I tell him?" he asked Colette. To their right rose up incomprehensibly tall skyscrapers. To their left, the Brooklyn Bridge soared over the Hudson.
"No, I will," said Colette. "I'm sorry to take so much of your time, Jimmy. I should have told you already."
"I got all the time in the world, Miss," said Littlemore.
"Well, it's probably nothing, but last night a girl came to our hotel looking for me. We were out, so she left a note. Here it is." Colette produced a crumpled scrap of paper from her purse. The paper bore a hand-written message, hastily scrawled:
Please I need to see you. They know you're right. I'll come back tomorrow morning at seven-thirty. Please can you help me.
"She never came back," added Colette.
"You know this Amelia?" asked Littlemore, turning the note over, but finding nothing on its opposite side.
" 'They know you're right'?" said Littlemore. "About what?"
"I can't imagine," said Colette.
"There's something else," said Younger.
"Yes, it's what she put inside the note that worries us," said Colette, fishing through her purse. She handed the detective a wad of white cotton.
Littlemore pulled the threads apart. Buried within the cotton ball was a tootha small, shiny human molar.
A fusillade of obscenities interrupted them. The cause was a parade on Liberty Street, which had halted traffic. All of the marchers were black. The men wore their Sunday besta tattered best, their sleeves too shortalthough it was midweek. Skinny children tripped barefoot among their parents. Most were singing; their hymnal rose above the bystanders' taunts and motorists' ire.
"Hold your horses," said a uniformed officer, barely more than a boy, to one fulminating driver.
Littlemore, excusing himself, approached the officer. "What are you doing here, Boyle?"
"Captain Hamilton sent us, sir," said Boyle, "because of the nigger parade."
"Who's patrolling the Exchange?" asked Littlemore.
"Nobody. We're all up here. Shall I break up this march, sir? Looks like there's going to be trouble."
"Let me think," said Littlemore, scratching his head. "What would you do on St. Paddy's Day if some blacks were causing trouble? Break up the parade?"
"I'd break up the blacks, sir. Break 'em up good."
"That's a boy. You do the same here."
"Yes, sir. All right, you lot," Officer Boyle yelled to the marchers in front of him, pulling out his nightstick, "get off the streets, all of you."
"Boyle!" said Littlemore.
"Not the blacks."
"But you said"
"You break up the troublemakers, not the marchers. Let cars through every two minutes. These people have a right to parade just like anybody else."
Littlemore returned to Younger and Colette. "Okay, the tooth is a little strange," he said. "Why would someone leave you a tooth?"
"I have no idea."
They continued downtown. Littlemore held the tooth up in the sunlight, rotated it. "Clean. Good condition. Why?" He looked at the slip of paper again. "The note doesn't have your name on it, Miss. Maybe it wasn't meant for you."
"The clerk said the girl asked for Miss Colette Rousseau," replied Younger.
"Could be somebody with a similar last name," suggested Littlemore. "The Commodore's a big hotel. Any dentists there?"
"In the hotel?" said Colette.
"How did you know we were at the Commodore?" asked Younger.
"Hotel matches. You lit your cigarette with them."
"Those awful matches," replied Colette. "Luc is sure to be playing with them right now. Luc is my little brother. He's ten. Stratham gives him matches as toys."
"The boy took apart hand grenades in the war," Younger said to Colette. "He'll be fine."
"My oldest is tenJimmy Junior, we call him," said Littlemore. "Are your parents here too?"
"No, we're by ourselves," she answered. "We lost our family in the war."
They were entering the Financial District, with its granite facades and dizzying towers. Curbside traders in three-piece suits auctioned securities outside in the September sun.
"I'm sorry, Miss," said Littlemore. "About your family."
"It's nothing special," she said. "Many families were lost. My brother and I were lucky to survive."
Littlemore glanced at Younger, who felt the glance but didn't acknowledge it. Younger knew what Littlemore was wonderinghow losing your family could be nothing specialbut Littlemore hadn't seen the war. They walked on in silence, each pursuing his or her own reflections, as a result of which none of them heard the creature coming up from behind. Even Colette was unaware until she felt the hot breath on her neck. She recoiled and cried out in alarm.
It was a horse, an old bay mare, snorting hard from the weight of a dilapidated, overloaded wooden cart she towed behind her. Colette, relieved and contrite, reached out and crumpled one of the horse's ears. The mare flapped her nostrils appreciatively. Her driver hissed, stinging the horse's flank with a crop. Colette yanked her hand away. The burlap-covered wagon clacked past them on the cobblestones of Nassau Street.
"May I ask you a question?" asked Littlemore.
"Of course," said Colette.
"Who in New York knows where you're staying?"
"What about the old lady you two visited this morning? The one with all the cats, who likes to hug people?"
"Mrs. Meloney?" said Colette. "No, I didn't tell her which hotel"
"How could you possibly have known that?" interrupted Younger, adding to Colette: "I never told him about Mrs. Meloney."
They were approaching the intersection of Nassau, Broad, and Wall Streetsthe financial center of New York City, arguably of the world.
"Kind of obvious, actually," said Littlemore. "You both have cat fur on your shoes, and in your case, Doc, on your pant cuffs. Different kinds of cat fur. So right away I know you both went some place this morning with a lot of cats. But the Miss also has two long, gray hairs on her shoulderhuman hair. So I'm figuring the cats belonged to an old lady, and you two paid a call on her this morning, and the lady must be the hugging kind, because that's how"
"All right, all right," said Younger.
In front of the Morgan Bank, the horse-drawn wagon came to a halt. The bells of Trinity Church began to boom, and the streets began to fill with thousands of office workers released from confinement for their precious hour of lunch.
"Anyway," Littlemore resumed, "I'd say the strong odds are that Amelia was looking for somebody else, and the clerk mixed it up."
Horns began honking angrily behind the parked horse cart, the pilot of which had disappeared. On the steps of the Treasury, a redheaded woman stood alone, head wrapped in a kerchief, surveying the crowd with a keen but composed gaze.
"Sounds like she might be in some trouble though," Littlemore went on. "Mind if I keep the tooth?"
"Please," said Colette.
Littlemore dropped the cotton wad into his breast pocket. On Wall Street, behind the horse-drawn wagon, a stout cab driver exited his vehicle, arms upraised in righteous appeal.
"Amazing," said Younger, "how nothing's changed here. Europe returned to the Dark Ages, but in America time went on holiday."
The bells of Trinity Church continued to peal. A hundred and fifty feet in front of Younger, the cab driver heard an odd noise coming from the burlap-covered wagon, and a cold light came to the eyes of the redheaded woman on the steps of the Treasury. She had seen Colette; she descended the stairs. People unconsciously made way for her.
"I'd say the opposite," replied Littlemore. "Everything's different. The whole city's on edge."
"Why?" asked Colette.
Younger no longer heard them. He was suddenly in France, not New York, trying to save the life of a one-armed soldier in a trench filled knee-high with freezing water, as the piercing, rising, fatal cry of incoming shells filled the air.
"You know," said Littlemore, "no jobs, everybody's broke, people getting evicted, strikes, riotsthen they throw in Prohibition."
Younger looked at Colette and Littlemore; they didn't hear the shriek of artillery. No one heard it.
"Prohibition," repeated Littlemore. "That's got to be the worst thing anybody ever did to this country."
In front of the Morgan Bank, a curious taxi driver drew back one corner of moth-eaten burlap. The redheaded woman, who had just strode past him, stopped, puzzled. The pupils of her pale blue irises dilated as she looked back at the cab driver, who whispered, "Lord have mercy."
"Down," said Younger as he pulled an uncomprehending Littlemore and Colette to their knees.
Wall Street exploded.
What People are Saying About This
“In The Death Instinct, Jed Rubenfeld masterfully weaves a sweeping story that moves from New York City, to Paris, to Vienna and back, illuminating with shocking and harrowing clarity the aftershock effects of the Great War on an entire generation. Anyone with a taste for mystery, political intrigue, and love in desperate circumstances will devour this enthralling novel.”--(Katherine Howe, author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane)
“Jed Rubenfeld delivers a soul-searching narrative with complex and memorable characters. Not only is The Death Instinct a suspenseful story that pulls readers into its political and scientific intrigue, it is also a provocative meditation on the psychological and emotional ripple effects of war and terrorism.”--(Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow)
Reading Group Guide
Based on a true and shocking event—the bombing of lower Manhattan in September 1920—Jed Rubenfeld weaves a twisting and thrilling work of fiction about a physician, a female radiochemist, and a police official who come to believe that the inexplicable attack is part of a larger plan. It’s a conspiracy that takes them from New York to Paris to Prague, from the Vienna home of Sigmund Freud to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and ultimately to the depths of our most savage human instincts where a shocking truth lies behind that fateful day.
ABOUT JED RUBENFELD
Jed Rubenfeld is also the author of the international bestseller The Interpretation of Murder. A professor at Yale University Law School, he is one of the country’s foremost experts on constitutional law. He wrote his undergraduate thesis at Princeton University on Sigmund Freud. Rubenfeld lives in Connecticut with his family.
– Marie Curie and radium
– Sigmund Freud
– World War I
– The 1920 bombing on Wall Street
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
At 12:01 pm on September 16, 1920, a blast rocked the Financial District in New York City. To date, this crime has remained unsolved, but it is most often attributed to Galleanists (Italian anarchists). With 38 people killed and 400 others injured, the blast was the most horrific act of terrorism on US soil up to that point. Or was it? Dr. Stratham Younger and his friend NYPD Captain James Littlemore are in the area on the day of the blast. From the beginning, both feel there is more to this attack than meets the eye. As the story begins to unravel, their lives are on the line as they race to find out who is responsible for the attack. In his novel The Death Instinct, Jed Rubenfeld weaves fiction and truth to create a different story of what occurred that day. With strong characters battling their own demons while wading through political and financial intrigue, Rubenfeld's novel is in turns heart-wrenching and heart-pounding. When I first started reading, I have to say that I was a little thrown off by what seemed to be innocuous bits of information thrown into the middle of the story line. When reading, it's probably a tendency to read those sections, think "huh?" and move on. After completing the novel, I realized there is a lot to be gleaned from those tidbits and nuggets that seem to be thrown into the mix with no rhyme or reason. At the end, I was still left with some that didn't seem to fit. However, when I finished reading, I had several "So THAT's why he wrote it" moments. The novel did take me some time to get into. There are sections throughout the novel where the storyline seems to drag. I was waiting for an outcome to a specific instance related in the story, and it took a lengthy time to arrive at that outcome in some instances. Overall, I really did enjoy reading Rubenfeld's novel. It is a solid story with enough intrigue and subterfuge to keep you guessing throughout. He keeps you interested by not giving information too early. It was late into the book before I started making connections for the story to play out. For me, that's the mark of a great suspense writer. This book was provided as a free review copy from the publisher.
Following the very favorably received “The Interpretation of Murder” with this ambitious novel using many of the same lead characters, including Dr. Sigmund Freud, and mixing the story with real historical personages and events, the author has created a historical piece of fiction with several mysteries intertwined. It begins with the detonation of a bomb-laden horse-drawn wagon at Broad and Wall Streets, the results of which can be seen today in the pockmarked outer wall of the House of Morgan opposite The New York Stock Exchange. While the perpetrators of the explosion have never been identified, nor the reason for the deed exposed, the plot attempts to propose a rationale, including a cast of characters, behind it. Along the way, other themes emerge, including the horrors on the World War I battlefront, the emergence of Freud’s controversial theory of a death instinct in humans, Madame Curie and the effects of radium, kidnapping, assassins, and various other developments. Well-plotted in a grand manner, the novel combines several genres and should appeal to a broad range of readers. It weaves into its themes mystery, thriller and history. What more can be said, except to heartily recommend?
This book is very well written and tells the reader in the form of a novel about the bombing on Wall Street in the 1920s. It is uncanny how real the scenes are and the story flows rapidly. It is history but in the format of a novel.
I read this book because I saw the author on a talk show and found out that it is about a terrorist attack that the ordinary person has never heard of. It happened on September 16, 1920. Jed Rubenfeld has taken an event in history and turned it into an interesting fictional read. Some of the characters are historical (Madame Curie, Sigmund Freud), but most are the products of the author's imagination. It's not the best-written book I've ever read, but I do recommend it for character development and interest.
It's a beautiful day in September 1920 when old friends Detective Jimmy Littlemore of the New York Police Department and Dr. Stratham Younger reunite in Madison Square. Their purpose for meeting again is a girl who left a cryptic note and a tooth for Younger's friend Colette, a French radiochemist who studied under Marie Curie. At the same time, a terrible thing is about to happen on Wall Street. Just as the bells ring noon and hundreds of financial district employees swarm onto the street for their lunch breaks, a horse-drawn wagon turned bomb explodes through Wall Street killing and injuring hundreds of people. Soon, Younger, Littlemore, and Colette are wrapped up in a far-reaching web of mystery that will find all three dodging death in the solving. The Death Instinct is jam packed full of interrelated mysteries and rife with rich historical detail. In Rubenfeld's hands we are transported from Prohibition era New York where vets returning from the war struggle to find jobs to a Washington D.C. where modern-day politics have already taken shape even though the city seems incomplete, to ravaged post-war Vienna where Sigmund Freud is still learning new lessions about psychoanalysis in the aftermath of the conflict. Impressive are the variety of storylines Rubenfeld successfully manages to weave into his story, with a mystery or two per main character. Rubenfeld's characters aren't so lovable as they are downright admirable. Littlemore's integrity is steadfast and his amazing feats of deductive reasoning downright sherlockian as he navigates the backward politics of both Washington and New York in pursuit of the truth about the Wall Street bombing and its implications for the U.S. Treasury and U.S. banks. Dr. Younger's courage and heroism follow him from his career at Harvard to the battlefield and to Europe again in pursuit of Colette and her unfinished business. He might have a short fuse and have a history as a bit of a lady's man, but Rubenfeld makes his Younger's heart of gold shine through. In Colette, Rubenfeld marries strength and determination with a stunning naivete to create a character who is determined to defeat her past before it can catch up with her. Rubenfeld covers a lot of ground in The Death Instinct between the historical scene setting, the fleshing out of his main characters, his employing of real historical figures, and the many mysteries both current to the time period of the book and left over from each character's recent past. My one complaint, then, is that sometimes it seems as if Rubenfeld is tackling too much and all the moving parts occasionally get in the way of the story itself. While the historical detail and Rubenfeld's successful efforts to render historical figures with accuracy create an incredible sense of that moment in history, sometimes the detail and the tangents get in the way of what would be a pageturner of a mystery. Overall, though, I found The Death Instinct to be an ambitious romp through the post-World War I world. Readers will be torn between wanting to savor all the history Rubenfeld has thoroughly re-created and wanting to rush to the end to discover the solutions to The Death Instinct's many intriguing mysteries.
The more things change the more they stay the same. This novel deals with a bombing in New York--in 1920! There are themes with hatred of immigrants, PSTD following war & the use of attacks on our soil to initiate war against another country--I suppose it could be the present decade. Though I thought the there were interesting elements to this book--I felt there were too many plots to deal with in one book. At times the book just dragged. I had enjoyed Interpretation of a Murder so I was excited by this new book--somewhat of a disappointment!
On September 16, 1920 a massive bomb exploded on Wall Street killing or injuring 400 people. This historical mystery explores the questions surrounding the explosion.The Death Instinct is a wonderful book which reminds me somewhat of the Devil in the White City in that two seemingly unrelated story lines are intertwined to create a narrative of the time.
The Death Instinct offers an interesting mystery set in an interesting time. In 1920, someone set off a bomb on Wall Street right in the middle of the Financial District and the culprits have never been found. Jed Rubenfeld has imagined what might have happened in what was until 9/11 the worst terrorist event in US history. Honestly, I didn't care much for the book. Rubenfeld's writing was quite good. The mystery itself was decent enough. I just didn't like any of the characters. Not a single one. And that was enough to keep me from enjoying The Death Instinct. I suspect that others will enjoy it and highly recommend it. I wish I could join them.
Jeb Rubenfeld¿s second historical novel The Death Instinct picks up about 10 years after The Interpretation of Murder left off. Freud is back in Vienna, Stratham Younger is now a war veteran only recently returned back to America, and Captain Littlemore is still a NYPD detective. As with his previous novel, Rubenfeld ties these characters together around a real event. In this case the 1920 bombing of Wall Street. And again the main protagonists Littlemore and Younger work together to solve the crime, this time without Freud¿s help; as he is written into the story to assist Younger¿s female companion cure her little brother¿s muteness. But a lot has changed in America between 109 and 1920, the most affecting being WWI and its aftermath. Soldiers returning home to America were devastated by what they had been through in the war, and now return home to a sour economy and no jobs. Rubenfeld personifies this darkening of the national spirit quite well in his portrayal of Younger. Gone is the happy budding Psychologist; replaced now by a brooding war veteran, no longer believing in God or Freud. The plot rifles from NY to Vienna, Prague, Paris and back again. Pulling in Freud and Marie Curie too. It would have been easy for a less assured writer to simply spit out another Interpretation of Murder, but Rubenfeld has not gone that route. Instead he has chosen to darken the mood, and to draw parallels with post WWI America and the aftermath of the Wall Street bombing to post 911 America. He shows how public fear can be harnessed by people with an agenda, and that immigrants (weather Italians of the 1920¿s or Muslims on the 2000¿s) will always be the first attacked and villainized after such a traumatic event. This novel is not its predecessor, and that is a good thing.
Death Instinct is a fine historical novel from Jed Rubenfeld dealing with a now mostly forgotten terrorist attack on Wall Street that took place on September 16, 1920. The attack has never been satisfactorily explained, despite the United States issuing a final report in 1944. Rubenfeld seizes in some of the pieces that still don¿t seem to fit and creates his own version of the events of that fateful incident.Rubenfeld also populates the novel with notable historic figures that were indeed connected with the event and others that were contemporary to the timeline. In many ways, this is similar to the approach Caleb Carr took in The Alienist or Kevin Baker in his immigrant trilogy set in early New York City. Death Instinct is a very satisfying novel, but it does not have the impact of the offerings previously mentioned.The love story between Colette, the French radiologist and Statham Younger, an altruistic American doctor, was used to effectively advance the plot, but it did not blend as well as it should have; it felt contrived for the purpose of introducing Luc, Colette¿s brother, to be cured of his loss of speech by no less a personage than Sigmund Freud. I¿m sorry, but it felt like literary namedropping. The author apparently did a thesis on Freud and still seems obsessed by him. Having Colette be a direct student of Marie Curie herself was enough for me.The book also pointed out some of the popular conspiracy theories that were staples of newspaper stories shortly after the September 16 bombing. While never overtly making the parallel, you can¿t help but make comparisons to media reports surrounding the events of our more contemporary September 11 disaster. For many people there are still doubts over what actually happened on that day.Strongly suggested for fans of historical fiction and events that may not have been satisfactorily explained. Fans of period police stories my also enjoy the portrayal of the way police department were actually run in the early Twentieth Century. Fans of political fiction will be attracted to this story as well. Overall, I¿m going four stars for this despite my earlier expressed dissatisfaction. If that have been addressed, this may indeed have taken the story into groundbreaking territory. This was well written enough that I am going to try and find other works from this author.
The Death instinct is a good historical thriller with timely appeal: it chronicles the first New York City terrorist attack. There were some fascinating parallels between the two events, especially in the hype and hysteria surrounding them. It is sad how history repeats itself.Luckily for us, though, history also provides the best foundation for stories. Jed Rubenfield does well, though he has a few hick-ups here and there and suffers a tad from an anachronistic style. As with much modern fiction, there may be too many films tainting our cultural/literary background. As with his other novel, this one has a love affair with all things Freud. In this way, particularly, I was reminded of Caleb Carr's Alienist. Alas Carr was a stronger tonic.Nonetheless, worth a read!
I am really starting to enjoy historical fiction, even time periods I did not think were interesting. That is one thing the blogging world has done for me is opened me up to new genres of fiction.I honestly did not know about the explosion on Wall Street in 1920. Did you? If you did you are either a history buff or you had a better history curriculum than I did - we never seemed to even make it to the 1900s when I took US History (and my husband who is a history buff did not know about it either). So now I know about it and I love that Mr. Rubenfeld has built a story around this bombing that has never been solved.So first the history is interesting. Nothing boring in this book. I also like that it flashes back to parts of World War I, which again I know the basics about but not much more so learning little bits and pieces here and there in this book was fascinating. The book moves back and forth at times from 1920 to a few years before when two of the main characters, Stratham Younger and Colette meet. These glimpses of the past help us understand them as characters and build their characters. What is going on in 1920 builds the plot more and more. I found the characters to be fascinating, trying to figure out Younger and trying to figure out Colette's secret kept the plot moving. I also enjoyed Captain James Littlemore and his great detective skills along with his friendship with Stratham Younger.The plot moves along at a great pace - I found myself covering 100 pages in no time and some times books like this bog me down. The Death Instinct did not bog me down at all. I found myself immersed in the book through the characters, the history and the plot. Mr. Rubenfeld does an excellent job of combining all three elements to make a very intriguing book.If you enjoy historical suspense then this is a great book to give a try. I recommend it highly and will look for Mr. Rubenfeld's other bestseller, The Interpretation of Murder when I clear out my review schedule a little more.
As other reviewers have noted, "The Death Instinct" does a good job straddling the line for historical fiction--evoking a bygone era while still making clear ties to pertinent issues today. I'd say the 9/11 parallels are perhaps a little too heavyhanded and obvious at some points; I prefer to not be hit over the head with that sort of thing. The international feel of the narrative is both positive and negative, as it gives fresh feel and broad scope, but it almost feels a bit ADD at some points, dropping narrative in one city simply to move to another. The fact vs fiction aspect is also something of a mixed bag.All in all I'd say the book has a great deal of promise and an intriguing idea. Rubenfeld clearly has imagination and talent, but I think he's perhaps trying a little too hard for cleverness and unusual twists and turns with the modern analogue, the chase around the world, and the fantastic elements when he could likely just rely on solid talent. A good read nonetheless.
I received The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld pre-publication through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. This novel is everything I look for in Historical Fiction. Jed Rubenfeld immerses his reader in the world of 1920. . As readers, we are introduced to characters who appear as real as the historical figures with whom they interact. The depth of the information that Rubenfeld includes in this thriller, beginning with a terrorist attact on Wall Street in September of 1920 is amazing. Of course, the parallels with 9/11 are inescapable and only grow throughout the book but there is no feeling of contrivance. The author weaves the fact and the fiction together seamlessly. He pulls in World War I as memories of his engaging characters. Marie Curie's research with radioactivity and Sigmund Freud's new field of psychoanalysis naturally appear in the story and move the plot along. The progression of the mystery takes our characters from New York City to Paris to Germany to Prague and back to the US Capital. Politicians, who were really in Washington D.C. at the time, play nefarious roles that I believe were true, if never proven. I can not state, with certainty, whether some parts of the plot are fact or fiction. There are a few turns where I am sure 'Truth is stranger than Fiction.' The whole novel hangs together just as it is without knowing the "truth" and has ignited a curiosity in me to research the facts. I believe this is the highest praise of historical fiction.This book has the plot twists and turns of an exceptional novel within an historically valid time and place. I can not wait to get Rubenfeld's previous book.
The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld kept me glued to the pages. If life got in the way, I couldn't wait to get back to the book. I actually think it's a better book than the previous, Interpretation of Murder. I loved revisiting the characters and found Collette to be a much better match for Stratham. I think both books would make a perfect movie with Robert Downey Jr. playing Stratham Younger! I liked, Death Instinct, as much or more than Caleb Carr's, Alienist, and that's saying alot. As the Alienist is one of my all-time favorite books.Thanks LibraryThing for a great read!
The Death Instinct by Rubenfeld kept me captivated for the entire ride. There was just the right mix of history, mystery, and science for my liking. The story focuses on the true event of a bombing on Wall St. in 1920, while in reality the perpetrators were never caught and the mystery never solved, Rubenfeld creates a back story featuring Freud, Marie Curie and their respective proteges as well as real historical figures from the US government of the time. The mystery comes in the form of who was behind the bombing, how and why. The history is seen in the many true characters and settings of the time. Rubenfeld does a tremendous job of tying together fiction and reality. While many writers do so in a bulky way, as if trying to show off how much they researched of the topic/setting/time, the factual content here flows seamlessly. I loved reading little tidbits such as the coining of the term "lobbyist". As for the science, the early discovery of radium and its use in cosmetics, to paint watch dials, and as a medical treatment is a constant in the story line, providing and interesting subplot. (Even more interesting to me as just before starting, I caught an ad for a cable documentary telling of the women who used to paint watch dials with radium paint and lick their brushes to a point).Although I've had Rubenfeld's previous work, The Interpretation of Murder in my library for a long time I had not read it previous to The Death Instinct but it is definitely next to be read now. Highly recommended for anyone who likes historical mystery and overall good fiction.
The best part of The Death Instinct is the historical note at the end. As for the actual story itself, well I've got a few problems with it.First, and I realize that this is an advanced copy so perhaps it will be fixed in time, on page 12 the Brooklyn Bridge is described as "soaring over the Hudson." The author describes other parts of New York fairly well as near as I can tell, so this is either a slip or else I'm misreading it, but obviously the last time anyone checked, the Brooklyn Bridge soars over the lower East River. It doesn't affect the plot in the slightest, but it sure throws a bucket of cold water on whatever atmosphere the author has created up to that point.Second, much later on in the book a manhole cover becomes a key plot device. Now this manhole cover is unique; it can be casually lifted by an individual, tossed through the air, and calmly caught by another individual who is at the same time reloading his weapon while under fire. Moments later, the manhole cover is used as a shield to stop several bullets. Now either the manhole cover is much lighter than a typical one weighing around 100 pounds, or it's a real manhole cover that quite possibly could stop a bullet. The author would have us believe it's some sort of hybrid manhole cover, capable of being tossed casually around while still strong enough to stop bullets. Sorry, I'm not buying it.In another case, one character is killed when molten metal falls on him from above while another character (who was pinned underneath the first character) escapes unharmed. This seems to defy the laws of gravity, thermodynamics, etc.Finally, I'm afraid that The Death Instinct ultimately suffers from the worst defect that could befall a historical fiction novel... it just doesn't read like historical fiction at all. Oh sure, it's based on an event that happened in 1920, and there are several historical figures and events that appear, but everything else reads like a modern mystery. For example, three characters travel from Bremen to Vienna to Bavaria to Prague, back to Vienna before flying(!) to Paris - all in seemingly less time than I believe you could do it today. There are a few delays mentioned in passing, but it all seems to be carried out far too hastily. When I read historical fiction, I'd like to feel that the story is taking place in the historical period described - and it doesn't feel that way here at all, unfortunately.So, ultimately I was disappointed in the book. The mystery was not that compelling, and seemed very far-fetched most of the time. The historical event that serves as the basis of the story occurs in the opening pages and then we're off on a modern mystery-thriller that is neither all that mysterious nor all that thrilling. And there are factual errors that dispel belief just when the author is trying to bring things to a climax.
A historical mystery set against the background of the 1920 Wall Street bombing (still unsolved to this day, but solved in this book), and it's a rattling good story. A New York detective, a psychiatrist turned professor, and a young French woman who's a protege of Marie Curie are the protagonists. The story also involves stolen gold, Sigmund Freud, the Morgan bank, and a bunch of real politicians. I liked it enough to order his previous book, The Interpretation of Murder.
I was intrigued by the description of Jed Rubenfeld's latest book The Death Instinct: "On Sept.16 1920, a horse-drawn wagon carrying 100 pounds of dynamite and a quarter-tone of cast-iron slugs exploded in front of the Morgan Bank and the New York Stock Exchange - in the very heart of New York's Financial district. More than 400 people were killed or injured. It was the deadliest bombing in the nation's 150-year history - and was the first terrorist attack on American soil. To this day, the reason for the bombing - and its perpetrators- remain a mystery. In The Death Instinct, Jed Rubenfeld offers the thrilling story of what happened on that day."My first thought was to wonder if this event truly happened or if it was a great fictional idea. Well, it really happened. Jed Rubenfeld has taken numerous factual historical events and combined them with his idea of what may have happened. Many significant historical figures are also 'brought to life' including Madame Curie, Sigmund Freud, and prominent politicos of the time.The Death Instinct features the two protagonists from Rubenfeld's first novel - The Interpretation of Murder - (I hadn't read this one) - Dr Stratham Younger and NYPD Captain James Littlemore. I was initially enthusiastic about this pair - especially Littlemore- his powers of deductive observation reminded me of Holmes. As the story continued though, I felt I never really engaged with the two of them. We are privy to some of what drives them and some personal moments, but these subplots felt extraneous. I felt as though they were only the vehicle to get to the next piece of the plot. And there were many, many parts to the plot. A few too many perhaps. I finished the book as I wanted answers to some of the more baffling occurrences put forth. At 464 pages, the story seemed too drawn out.Rubenfeld wrote his undergrad thesis on Freud and he draws upon this knowledge to espouse many of Freud's theories. I must admit, I found them a little tedious after the first few initial analysis.
An unsolved bombing on Wall Street in the 1920s, Marie Curie and radium, soldiers returning home from WWI and its aftermath. Sigmund Freud. There was so much in this book that I wanted to like, it was disappointing that I simply could not lose myself within its pages.There were simple inaccuracies that hopefully an attentive copyeditor will fixt. For example, last time I lived in New York, the Brooklyn Bridge spanned the East River, not the Hudson. That threw me out of the book and amused me in ways I suspect the auther did not intend. Similar errors compounded my troubles. But these are quibbles. The love story never grabbed me. I couldn't believe in Marie no matter how much I tried. Were there beautiful young French women in WWI? I'm sure. But she did not convince me, nor did her relationship with the hero or her brother.I am grateful for this peak iinto a time period we have pretty much forgotten. I had hoped for a better read.
In The Death Instinct, Jed Rubenfeld builds a engaging and convincing story around the September 16, 1920 bombing of Wall Street. It was the largest terrorist attack to ever occur on American soil and is unsolved to this day. Rubenfeld's main characters, WWI veteran Dr. Stratham Younger, NYPD Captain James Littlemore, and French scientist Collette Rousseau, happen to be there at the time of the bombing. Their efforts to both solve the bombing and a series of attacks on Collette lead them all on a roller coaster ride on both sides of the Atlantic.I originally put The Death Instinct on my Top Ten 2011 Books I¿m Anticipating list because the description reminded me of Erik Larson¿s work. In my opinion, Larson is a master of narrative non-fiction. Though Rubenfeld is writing fiction, I thought the integration of history sounded similar. I was not disappointed. Rubenfeld expertly weaves fact and fiction to create a gripping yet educational tale. A number of historical characters appear in The Death Instinct including Sigmund Freud and several political figures. Interspersed in the narrative are interludes of history, which give you valuable background on the era.One of the early history interludes really stuck with me. Early on, Rubenfeld explains the series of terrorist actions that took place in the U.S. during 1919 and 1920. The rhetoric on terrorism since September 11th has, as I see it, always suggested that terrorism is a new threat to which America must adapt. Reading Rubenfeld, it occurred to me that terrorists are not as new of a foe as we might think (or be led to think). For the better part of a century, the U.S. has been the target of terrorist acts. Though their frequency has increased and the technology used has evolved, terrorism is not new. The parallels between then and now are striking and somewhat frightening.But I digress.I was immediately drawn in by Rubenfeld's writing style. His integration of historical fact is done in a way that creates a compelling story rather than boring history PSAs. I learned things about World War I, U.S.-Mexico relations, radium, and Sigmund Freud. For instance, did you know that Freud came up with the death instinct? That¿s right, it¿s not just a clever book title. Rubenfeld¿s characters are complex and charming. I laughed out loud at Littlemore on several occasions. There are twists and turns to make the story exciting, but they are also logical and believable. Some you may see coming, some may shock you. In the end, I was very glad to have read The Death Instinct. I've added Rubenfeld's previous novel, The Interpretation of Murder, to my TBR list. I highly recommend you add The Death Instinct to yours.
An explosion rips through Wall Street killing or injuring more than 400 people and becomes one of the most deadliest terrorist attacks in American history. The attack occurred in 1920 and remains unsolved to this day. This event happens in the very first pages of this book and the mystery of this event is interwoven with the story of Captain James Littlemore, Dr. Statham Younger, Colette Rousseau and her brother Luc. Someone is after Colette and she is hiding a terrible secret, perhaps the secret that has rendered her brother mute. The story takes the reader from New York to Washington as well as Paris, Prague and Vienna. Many historical figures play a part in the story including Dr. Sigmund Freud.This story is an interesting blend of fact and fiction and the author gives a very thorough explanation as to which is which at the end of the book. The author does an excellent job of presenting the historical facts and blending them with his story. The characters are interesting and well conceived and there is much action and suspense throughout the book. There is also quite a bit of violence as well and perhaps some of it could have been toned down just a bit. I felt the book got bogged down a bit in the middle and felt the ending was a little too predictable. I did enjoy the book, however, and would recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction as well as suspense and mystery.
A horse-drawn wagon passed through Wall Street's lunchtime crowds on September 16, 1920. Inside the wagon was 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron slugs to act as shrapnel. The wagon exploded in front the Morgan Bank and the US Treasury building, killed 38 people and seriously injured hundreds.It was the most destructive terrorist attack on US soil until the Oklahoma City bombing. Jed Rubenfeld draws some analogies between the 1920 attack and the 9-11 attacks. Unlike those attacks, the 1918 attack went unsolved. There were some vague accusations of plots by Italian anarchists, but nobody was ever charged.Rubenfeld puts together a sweeping storyline to find his explanation for the bombing. He inserts many subplots branching out from the main story line. He also includes several real-life characters, fictionalized for the book. This includes Marie Curie, Sigmund Freud, Senator Albert Bacon Fall, and former Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo. The main protagonists are Dr. Stratham Younger, Colette Rousseau - a radium scientist, and James Littlemore a detective with the NYPD.There is a lot going on and I thought the story might go spinning out of control at a few points, but Rubenfeld manages to keep it together.My biggest quibble is with the title. When the publisher offered me copy I almost passed on it. The "Death Instinct" is one of Freud's theories. He came to the conclusion that humans have not one but two primary instincts: the life-favoring instinct and the death instinct. In other words, humans strive for both tenderness and thrills. Personally, I found the whole Freud sub-plot to be a distraction to the story and the title merely reinforces an aspect that I did not like.Otherwise, I enjoyed the main characters and the twisting storyline as it jumps from plot-to-plot and character-to-character. There is romance, financial intrigue, and police procedural elements all mixed into an enjoyable book.
A promising premise: Wall Street reels from a bomb left in from the JP Morgan Bank in September 1902. After years of investigating, officials blame the crime on Italian terrorists but it is never solved and no one has been brought to trial (true story). Unfortunately, the author ties in Freud, Madame Currie and a tortured, unsympathetic, fictional doctor into his character mix. Of course, the only female character to figure in the story is beautiful and significantly younger to the two male main characters. Of course, she is smart but her beauty is what leaves all men dazzled into abrupt proposals of matrimony among other things. And, of course, Freud is uber-insightful into all human emotions. (Huh? What does he have to do with the bomb on Wall Street?)What this book did do was make me want to research the terrorist bombing in New York that took place nearly one hundred years before the World Trade Center attack to find out why I never heard about before.