Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Death Instinct: A Novel

The Death Instinct: A Novel

3.5 50
by Jed Rubenfeld

See All Formats & Editions

From the international bestselling author-"a sprawling and ambitious literary mystery" (The Seattle Times).

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


From the international bestselling author-"a sprawling and ambitious literary mystery" (The Seattle Times).

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A deadly terrorist attack rocks downtown Manhattan in September...1920. Rubenfeld's gripping novel revolves around the real-life Wall Street bombing and will have you enthralled from page 1."
-Entertainment Weekly Must List

""Brilliantly concocted and more than just a little eerie. The fictional and actual events surrounding the 1920 bombing are as relevant today as they were nearly a century ago."

"This novel is great ... Jed Rubenfeld's tremendous follow-up to his 2006 novel, The Interpretation of Murder, bustles with kidnapping, knife throwing, gun fighting, poisoning, bank robbery, corruption. The Death Instinct is that rare combo platter: a blast to read - you'll be counting how few pages you have left with dread, and you'll do this before you're halfway done - and hefty enough to stay with you. There's a steady beat of intrigue and confusion and explanations you wouldn't have guessed."
-The New York Times

"Intelligent, absorbing and provocative."
-The Seattle Times

"Rubenfeld's debut, The Interpretation of Murder (2006), proved his skillful use of historical detail to create a compelling tale of psychological suspense. He's only gotten better."
-Library Journal (starred review)

"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

"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

"The Death Instinct is a terrifically smart, tumbling roller coaster of a novel, full of mysterious twists and turns, murders, conspiracies, dreams of revenge, and ultimately a very human redemption. Beginning with one of the great unsolved crimes in American history?the 1920 bombing of Wall Street?author Jed Rubenfeld takes the reader on a fast-forward journey through the politics and police work, science and psychoanalysis of the of the early nineteenth century. The characters are so well realized, the conspiracies so wonderfully twisted, and the rendering of time and place so well done that readers will find the story hard to put down?and harder to forget"
-Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

"A well-crafted story, skillfully told, with more twists than a pig's tail, and a lot more entertaining."
-Anne Perry, author of the Thomas Pitt and William Monk novels

Marilyn Stasio
There's real life in the street scenes, and historical figures like Mayor John F. Hylan, United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and the F.B.I. director William J. Flynn figure credibly in the ingeniously plotted investigation conducted by Rubenfeld's fictional detectives…
—The New York Times Book Review
Susannah Meadows
Jed Rubenfeld's tremendous follow-up to his 2006 novel, The Interpretation of Murder…bustles with kidnapping, knife throwing, gun fighting, poisoning, bank robbery, corruption. The Death Instinct is that rare combo platter: a blast to read—you'll be counting how few pages you have left with dread, and you’ll do this before you're halfway done—and hefty enough to stay with you…This novel is great.
—The New York Times
Seth Stern
…another engaging whodunit that meticulously reconstructs early-20th-century New York.
—The Washington Post
Barbara Roden

The Wall Street bombing which took place on September 16, 1920 was -- until 2001 -- the most deadly terrorist attack ever to strike New York City. In the immediate vicinity of the blast were the buildings of J. P. Morgan and Co., the world's most powerful financial institution; the U.S. Assay Office, which housed $900 million in gold; and the U.S. Sub-Treasury, while around the corner was the New York Stock Exchange. To complicate matters still further, a leaflet found nearby demanded the freeing of "political prisoners." Hundreds of policemen and FBI agents tried to identify the culprits and their motives, with Anarchists, Bolsheviks, Communists, Russians, and Italians all suspected in turn. No one claimed responsibility; to this day the case has never been officially solved.

The September 16th attack kick-starts Jed Rubenfeld's intelligent, fast-paced historical thriller The Death Instinct. Among the witnesses of the explosion are war surgeon Dr. Stratham Younger, his friend Captain James Littlemore of the NYPD, and Colette Rousseau, a radiochemist whom Younger met in France during the First World War, and who is in America trying to raise funds for her mentor, Marie Curie. Littlemore takes a professional interest in the Wall Street atrocity, finding himself caught between political, civic, and business forces. Each has secrets to hide and agendas to advance. Younger and Rousseau, meanwhile, are plunged into a separate series of crises and adventures: before the first sixty pages have elapsed there has been -- in addition to the Wall Street bombing -- a mysterious letter, a kidnapping, two murders, and the appearance of a hideously deformed woman who seems to be trying to send a message to Colette.

A lengthy flashback explaining how and when Younger and Rousseau first met slows things down momentarily. Once this is out of the way, however, Rubenfeld begins to develop the various plot strands that have been set in motion. His writing, too, becomes more assured, as when he describes a number of women who have daubed their eyes with luminous make-up, "creating paired circles of phosphorescence that turned the dark portal of the church into a kind of grotto from which nocturnal birds or beasts seemed to peer out." The teasing possibility of romance between Stratham and Colette is handled deftly, and the period color of post-War Paris, Vienna, and Prague provides a vivid backdrop, while various historical figures -- including Sigmund Freud, Madame Curie, Treasury Secretary William McAdoo, and FBI head "Big" Bill Flynn -- weave in and out of the plot. Freud is given the largest role, and makes perhaps the most disturbing comment in the novel, when he suggests to Younger that the perpetrators of the bombing are already dead. "You think they killed themselves in the blast -- deliberately," Younger says slowly, to which Freud replies "Maybe they did, maybe they didn't . . . . Maybe they'll give others the idea."

It's not the only time that Rubenfeld draws parallels between the events of 1920 and the present day. Indeed, he's at his best with the aftermath of the Wall Street explosion, blending fact and fiction seamlessly to create a gripping mystery. He is equally successful with the engaging, observant, tenacious, and dryly humorous Jimmy Littlemore. "Somebody has to" is his reply, when he's accused of playing by the rules. His dogged pursuit of the truth behind the events of September 16th, and his refusal to compromise, lends The Death Instinct its heart. A suggestion to the author: a series featuring the continuing adventures of Jimmy Littlemore. Perhaps he could investigate the disappearance of Judge Crater . . . .

--Barbara Roden

Publishers Weekly
The 1920 bombing of Wall Street, the most deadly act of terrorism in the United States until the Oklahoma blast of 1995, provides the framework for Rubenfeld's excellent follow-up to The Interpretation of Murder. The sweeping plot details the baffling hunt for those responsible for the death and injury of more than 400 New Yorkers. Numerous intriguing subplots snake out from the main story line, several of which bring such historical figures as Marie Curie, famous for her radium experiments, and Sigmund Freud, who had a significant role in the previous book, to life. Rubenfeld deftly wends his way through the shifting landscape with a historian's factual touch and a storyteller's eye for the dramatic and telling. Readers will be enthralled as Dr. Stratham Younger, the hero of The Interpretation of Murder--aided by his beautiful fiancée, scientist Colette Rousseau, and Det. James Littlemore--manages to solve the Wall Street bombing, something that the real authorities never did. (Jan.)
Library Journal
This action-packed historical thriller chronicles the real-life unsolved bombing of a Wall Street bank on September 16, 1920, that killed or injured more than 400 people. New York City police officer James Littlemore and World War I veteran Dr. Stratham Younger witness the explosion and get drawn into the investigation. Also present is Frenchwoman Colette Rousseau, who met Younger during the war when she had been trained by Madame Curie to operate a portable X-ray machine on the battlefields. Now she is visiting New York to raise money to buy radium for Curie's experiments, and several attempts have been made to kidnap her. Rubenfeld weaves together the story lines of the Wall Street bombing and the attacks on Rousseau, along with an extended flashback of Younger's experiences in France during the war. Sigmund Freud also makes a guest appearance, as he psychoanalyzes both Rousseau and her mute younger brother. VERDICT Rubenfeld's debut, The Interpretation of Murder, proved his skillful use of historical detail to create a compelling tale of psychological suspense. He's only gotten better. Strongly recommended for fans of Matthew Pearl, Caleb Carr, and other historical thriller authors. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 8/10.]—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib., CA
Kirkus Reviews

Terrorism, political conspiracies and financial shenanigans combine in the latest from Rubenfeld (The Interpretation of Murder, 2006, etc.).

The year is 1920, and it's a beautiful September day in New York City. Dr. Stratham Younger and Captain James Littlemore are escorting Colette Rousseau to lunch. Younger is a physician, a jaded veteran of the killing fields of World War I. Rousseau is a radiochemist, a technician trained by Madame Curie to use portable X-ray machines on the battlefields to diagnose the wounded. Suddenly a bomb explodes on Wall Street. Dozens are dead and hundreds are wounded. Littlemore is a police detective, and soon he and his friends are caught up in the mystery. The Federal Government blames anarchists. Thomas Lamont of J.P. Morgan Bank links the explosion to a banking embargo against Mexico. That evening Rousseau and Luc, her young brother, are mysteriously, briefly kidnapped. Rousseau then convinces Younger to sail with her to Europe to seek help from Dr. Sigmund Freud for Luc, mute since witnessing German soldiers murder his parents. There are hints of a romance between Younger and Rousseau, but Rousseau is worried about her brother, and she's also determined to find a former German soldier from her past. History buffs will enjoy Rubenfeld's introductions to assorted characters—Marie Curie, Serb assassins and movers-and-shakers from Woodrow Wilson's cabinet. Adding political and financial corruption to uncover, manipulators to expose and a war with Mexico to prevent might make the plot seem too complex, but no loose end is left untied, and only one or two insignificant anachronisms should trouble the most sophisticated reader.

An intriguing literary mystery mixing fact and fiction.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 8.52(h) x 1.23(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

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 death—to 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 death—really accepts it—fears 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 Corner—just 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 cart—pilotless 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.


"Family's good."

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 too—if 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, and—because Prohibition had not yet arrived—corks 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 out—about 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.

"Yes, please."

The woman under the flagpole licked her lips. Hurrying New Yorkers passed on either side, taking no notice of her—or 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: "Shoot—we 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 Manhattan—they had emerged at City Hall—Younger, 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 him—until 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 killing—without 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 tooth—a 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 best—a tattered best, their sleeves too short—although 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."

"Yes sir."

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 ten—Jimmy 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 wondering—how losing your family could be nothing special—but 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?"

"No one."

"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 Streets—the 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 shoulder—human 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, riots—then 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

Katherine Howe
“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)
Matthew Pearl
“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)

Meet the Author

Jed Rubenfeld is the author of the international bestseller The Interpretation of Murder. He is a professor at Yale University Law School and is one of the country’s foremost experts on constitutional law. He wrote his undergraduate thesis at Princeton University on Sigmund Freud. He lives in Connecticut with his family.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The Death Instinct 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
irishbookworm21 More than 1 year ago
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.
tedfeit0 More than 1 year ago
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?
Bob36 More than 1 year ago
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.
CerrillosSandy More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great plot(s), fascinating characters and a history lesson worth having. Who knew that Wall Street was blown up in 1920? Not so pleasant to realize that nothing ever really changes, though. I did enjoy seeing Big Bankers, Morgan especially, in action; Our congress as ineffectual and corrupt as ever, and realizing that Mexican oil played such a huge roll in our history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dukewife More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this detective/mystery romp through 1920's NYC , D.C. and Austria/Hungary. Enjoyed the characters, both real (Freud, Curie) and fictitious. In no way was this a boring book. Good premise, who committed the still unsolved 1920 Wall St. bombing? So glad I didn't read the reviews here before reading this book, might have been turned off but it's a good quick read and kept me interested to see how they would get out of all the situations they end up in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ctothep More than 1 year ago
Rubenfeld/Liss/Larson/Baynard Boom... best historical fiction writers out there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michael Pegoraro More than 1 year ago
I had high expectations going into reading this book. Unfortunately it took too long to get to the good stuff. I might even suggest the author could have eliminated a lot of pages that were not necessary. In the end, I am happy to have fnished the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago