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The Interpretation of Murder
A Novel

by Jed Rubenfeld

      An engrossing page-turner, The Interpretation of Murder breathes new life into the historical fiction genre. Thanks to Rubenfeld’s artistry, New York in the summer of 1909 comes alive under a Manhattan skyline of electric lights, to reveal beautiful, strangled young women and invisible, but watchful hotel maids who come up missing because of what they know. 

The novel centers around the mysterious week that famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud spent in America. For unknown reasons, Freud never stepped foot in America again, later referring to Americans as "savages" and "criminals." Using this "lost" week as a jumping off point, Rubenfeld uses known facts about Freud’s visit to create a murder mystery in which he will play a significant part.

Cleverly told from the perspective of two young men, the novel is a study in observation. The seemingly naïve Detective Jimmy Littlemore, who initially appears to be of no consequence, asks the most important question in the novel: Where’s the maid? The other perspective is that of young Dr. Stratham Younger, an impressionable American doctor who has dedicated his life to Freud. Despite occasional jarring shifts in point of view, Rubenfeld does well overall in characterization. The outside perspectives cast a fun light upon Freud, who displays occasional lightheartedness, and little-known dark insights into Jung as a womanizing, brooding protégé destined to split with his mentor and friend. 

The Interpretation of Murder has a multi-level appeal for armchair psychologists and mystery sleuths such as myself, as well as Shakespearean and history buffs, through its use of case histories, analyses of Hamlet and amazing historical facts about turn-of-the-century New York. From the historical perspective, Rubenfeld transports readers to the beginnings of modernity, from the first telephone at the Balmoral Hotel and the construction of the Manhattan Bridge, to the dark caverns of the opium dens in Chinatown. Extra little treats for gossip buffs are the thrilling to read detailed machinations and intrigues of the famously wealthy Astors and Vanderbilts.  

When it comes to this novel, don’t let the historical backdrop combined with psychoanalytic theory and Hamlet references deter you. Rubenfeld is a master storyteller, combining these elements into a seamless new literary form. For an exciting, suspenseful, lyrical read, The Interpretation of Murder really delivers.

The Book

May 15, 2007 Reprint
Mystery/ Historical 1909 New York
More at
NOTE: 2nd review for new edition. Hardcover also reviewed on

The Reviewer

Heather Buchanan
Reviewed 2008
NOTE: Reviewer Heather Buchanan is the author of Dark River: A Novel of Suspense.
© 2008