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.
“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.”
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