The Interpretation Of Murder – Jed Rubenfeld

The Interpretation of Murder - I'm a bit unsure why Freud is there at all!

The Interpretation of Murder – I’m a bit unsure why Freud is there at all!

I love the idea of this book – a murder mystery including real people in a fictional setting.  I really enjoyed about the first three quarters of it, but then somehow, I got a bit bored.  All of a sudden it seemed a bit daft and disjointed and I didn’t really see the point of it.  Overall, I think I liked it, but it’s not quite as clever as it should be.

The basic premise is a murder mystery based in New York in 1909.  A sadistic killer is bumping of high society girls and the mayor, coroner and detective must solve the case.  Alongside this, Dr Younger, our part-time narrator is hosting his hero, Sigmund Freud and his entourage, including Carl Jung in the U.S.  This part is based on fact, Freud did indeed visit the States in 1909 and returned to Europe with a strong aversion to ever returning.  Why he hated the States I don’t know, but this novel attempts to give us a reason, albeit fictional.

Younger is asked to help treat one of the killers victims, Nora Acton, who has survived but has no voice or memory of her attack.  With Freud’s help, Younger attempts to psychoanalyse her and help restore her memory, thus helping the law men solve the case.  This bit’s all good, there’s twists and turns and it keeps you guessing until the end who the killer is.  Don’t worry, I wouldn’t tell you here, I’m not that mean.

Yet there’s a couple of side stories that are really surplus to requirements.  Firstly is Freud’s ongoing feud with Jung, who is painted particularly unsympathetically here.  Whilst it’s an interesting relationship, it has no relevance on the story whatsoever and seems there only to serve the purpose of including Freud in the book.  Freud himself has little impact on the murder case and seems there only to add a slant to a good old murder mystery tale.  It doesn’t really need that slant.

Secondly, Younger has an obsession with ‘solving’ Hamlet.  What does the ‘to be or not to be’ speech really mean, why did Hamlet talk but not act?  What relevance does this all have to our murder mystery story?  None really, except it gives a reason to talk more about Oedipus.  There’s just no reason to include any of this into the novel and yet I quite liked that it was there, as if Dr Younger was preoccupied with his own self-indulgent studies and not really concentrating on the case.  This perhaps makes him a more believable character.  I suspect really that Rubenfeld was preoccupied with his own studies and not really concentrating on the plot, but I didn’t really mind that.

What I did mind was the last few chapters.  There was a build up throughout the whole book and then in the space of a few pages, everything is neatly wrapped up pretty unconvincingly.  I swear I could hear the author thinking ‘crap, this is turning into a pretty long book, I’d better finish it quickly!’

And yet, I still think I liked it.  There was a number of characters introduced who I couldn’t remember and it turned out I needed to remember them.  The plot’s a bit scattered and the romance element unconvincing, it clearly thinks it’s cleverer than it is, and yet…I think I’m just a sucker for a good mystery!  There’s no other explanation.

Sample Text:

“There is no mystery to happiness. Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn — or worse, indifference —  cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn’t look ahead. He lives in the present.”

Further Reading:

If you like a good historical mystery you might like The Shadow Of The Wind

If you like fictional books about real people you might like The English Patient

Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol

Dead Souls.  A very intriguing title, I'm sure you'll agree.

Dead Souls. A very intriguing title, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I’m not gonna lie to you, I first picked up this book because I like Gogol Bordello and found out they were named after this author. I googled the author, thought this book sounded interesting and downloaded it to my Kindle.  I wish I could tell you that I was just interested in Gogol’s satirical representation of Soviet mentality, but the truth I just like pop music.

Saying that, I did genuinely like the storyline here.  The basic premise is this:  Chichikov is a fraudster.  That’s not a spoiler by the way, we are privy to this information from the beginning.  He travels around Russia buying up ‘dead souls’.  Continue reading

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

The sort of book I buy for the cover

The sort of book I buy for the cover

This is the sort of book you may pick up and read purely based on the title (see also ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ and ‘The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts’).  In my case, that’s partly true, but also because it was on special offer on the Kindle.

Originally written in Swedish, it follows the adventures of said 100 year old man, Allan Karlsson.  Recently moved into a residential home, Allan is alert and spritely for his age and certainly not ready to slow down.  After making his escape, he spontaneously steals a suitcase and travels across Sweden, creating a motley crew of friends along the way (including a pet elephant).  What Allan doesn’t anticipate is that the suitcase contains thousands in stolen cash and he unknowingly is being chased by a psychotic drug-dealing motorcycle gang leader and the police.

Alongside this story is the story of Allan’s long life, his achievements and political allies.  It’s a sort of Forrest Gumpian story, with Allan creating the A-Bomb, befriending Truman, Stalin, Mao and Franco throughout the years.

Ok, so it’s not great literature, but it is an entertaining read.  It’s easy enough to get into and reads pretty well.  I did find myself wondering when it would end though.  I reckon it could do with being ¾ quarters of the length it is.  There are only so many world leaders Allan can befriend after all, even after 100 years on the planet.

Sample Text:

“I shall destroy capitalism! Do you hear! I shall destroy every single capitalist! And I shall start with you, you dog, if you don’t help us with the bomb!’
Allan noted that he had managed to be both a rat and a dog in the course of a minute or so. And that Stalin was being rather inconsistent, because now he wanted to use Allan’s services after all.
But Allan wasn’t going to sit there and listen to this abuse any longer. He had come to Moscow to help them out, not to be shouted at. Stalin would have to manage on his own.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ said Allan.
‘What,’ said Stalin angrily.
‘Why don’t you shave off that moustache?’
With that the dinner was over, because the interpreter fainted.”

Further Reading:

If you liked the Scandinavian motorcycle gangs you might like The Girl Who Played With Fire

If you like the eccentricities in old age you might like Mr. Rosenblum’s List

The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

“...if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom...”

“…if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom…”

Written in 1850 but set in 1642, The Scarlet Letter is the story of Hester Prynne, a single mother in puritanical Boston.  Hester was married, but her husband is presumed dead, missing at sea on his voyage over to the USA and so, when she has a child out of wedlock it’s too much for the puritans to accept.  She is punished publicly, forced to stand on public display for several hours and then imprisoned.  Furthermore, for the rest of her life she must wear a red letter A on all her clothes (A for Adulterer).

Whilst on public display Hester spots her ‘dead’ husband in the crowd.  He enquires what her crime is, and, unable to bear the shame, he assumes a new identity, Roger Chillingworth.  Chillingworth poses as a physician and, together with Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, visits Hester in prison in order to question her about the child’s father.  Hester refuses to speak.  In private, Chillingworth then tells her that if she ever reveals his true identity he will find and kill the child’s father. SO, WHO’S THE DADDY?

The Book With No Name – Anonymous

The Book With No Name - A Novel (Probably)

The Book With No Name – A Novel (Probably)

Once again, this is a book I bought purely because of the cover.  It intrigued me, the only thing written as the blurb on the back said that anyone who read this book ended up being killed.  Perhaps it’s morbid fascination, but I decided to give it a go.  I’m still here, by the way, so don’t be put off by the death threat!

Ok, so where on earth do I begin explaining the story? *takes deep breath…

It’s set in Santa Mondega – a town populated by gangsters, low-lifes and hit-men.  and the action begins in a bar with a mass shooting by The Bourbon Kid.  He kills everyone except the bartender and a girl, who survives her shooting but in left in a 5 year coma.  A local officer is sent in to investigate and it soon becomes apparent that the root of all the evils in the town in a mysterious stone called The Eye Of The Moon – a stone which has the power to stop the moon in it’s path, thus plunging the world into eternal darkness, creating an ideal world for the undead. SO IT’S ABOUT VAMPIRES THEN?

The Stranger – Albert Camus

72200px-TheStranger_BookCover3I knew absolutely nothing about this book before reading it, other than it was one of those books you’re supposed to read – get it on your bucket list people, whether you want to or not. However, seeing as it’s only relatively short I decided what the hell, I’ll give it whirl. What had initially discouraged me from reading it was that it’s usually described as ‘existential in theme’ and, to my shame, I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant and so assumed I wouldn’t really understand the book either. YEAH YEAH, BUT WHAT IS IT ACTUALLY ABOUT?

The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

The Woman In White - The first detective novel?

The Woman In White – The first detective novel?

This is another of those books I only read because it’s on the BBC Big Read List (2010), but I’m glad I did read it.  It’s kind of a Victorian gothic mystery drama and has one of the best baddies of any book I’ve read in Count Fosco.  He’s so deliciously charmingly evil I can’t help liking him a bit.

The story begins as Walter Hartright is employed as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie (a ‘live-in’ art tutor if you please – gives some indication of the kind of wealth these characters have!)  They soon fall in love, but Laura is betrothed to Sir Percival Glyde.  When a mysterious woman in white starts appearing, and leaves a letter for Laura, warning her away from Glyde, it is up to the detective skills of Hartright to figure out who this mystery woman is and what she wants.

It’s quite a long book and you’ll need to invest some time in reading it, but I would recommend this above a lot of ‘classic’ literature.  It’s credited as one of the first ever detective novels and I think a lot more happens in this than other Victorian stories, which can be a bit long and worthy sometimes.

Collins had a background in legal training and, as such, this novel is told from many angles as a court case would be.  Some of the accounts contradict each other and so, we the readers are left trying to work out who is a reliable witness to events and who is self-serving. (Don’t worry; it all becomes clear in the end).  This makes for an interesting concept as it requires some input from the reader, as if perhaps we are the jury in this case.

Sample text:

“Not the shadow of a doubt crossed my mind of the purpose for which the Count had left the theatre. His escape from us, that evening, was beyond all question the preliminary only to his escape from London. The mark of the Brotherhood was on his arm—I felt as certain of it as if he had shown me the brand; and the betrayal of the Brotherhood was on his conscience—I had seen it in his recognition of Pesca.”

Further Reading:

If you like a good detective story you might like The Maltese Falcon

If you like a good gothic baddie you might like Frankenstein

If you like a good mystery thriller you might like The Shadow of the Wind