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

The Shadow Of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If you like history, mystery and romance this may become your new favourite book.

If you like history, mystery and romance this may become your new favourite book.

If you like a good mystery story, then this could be for you.  Daniel is a young boy who is taken the ‘Cemetery of Lost Books’ in Barcelona by his father.  He is told that, as this place is secret, only a select few have ever known about it.  Everyone who is initiated must chose 1 book which they will protect for life.  (I know this may sound a bit daft written here, but go with it….)  Daniel chooses a book called The Shadow Of the Wind by Julian Carax.  After reading it, Daniel tries to find more work by this author, but struggles to find much information at all (did I mention this is post-war Barcelona i.e. no internet!)  All he finds are reports of a strange man, called Lain Corbert who has been buying up Carax’s books in order to burn them. SO THIS LAIN CORBERT IS CLEARLY A BADDIE THEN, RIGHT?

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

72rebecca1Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

Few novels have such a recognisable opening line.  A Tale Of Two Cities perhaps, and Pride and Prejudice.  Already in the opening line, there is atmosphere.  We never learn the name of the narrator, she is simply the second Mrs De Winter.  Naïve, vulnerable and young, whilst working in Monte Carlo she meets and is romanced by Maxim De Winter who marries her and takes her back to his stately home, Manderley.  There she is greeted by Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper, a character so deliciously evil and manipulative she undermines our narrator at every available opportunity OOH, I LIKE A GOOD BADDIE, TELL ME MORE…

The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

Meh!  I wouldn't bother to be honest.

Meh! I wouldn’t bother, to be honest.

On paper, this book totally appeals to me, mystery, romance, history – 3 things I enjoy in a novel.  Yet somehow it just didn’t work.  I’m not sure why, I just didn’t get it.

The primary story is set during WW2 in Italy. Hana, a Canadian nurse is living out the war in an abandoned villa, filled with hidden bombs (sensible?)  She has a patient there with her, who has a strong English accent (hence the title) but he is so badly burned she has no way of identifying him.  He remembers his explorations into the North African desert in great detail but cannot say his own name.  Also in the villa is Caravaggio, a spy friend of Hana’s father, who was killed in the war.  Like the patient, Caravaggio is addicted to morphine.  Lucky for them they have a nurse with a handy supply!

After a time, two British soldiers turn up at the villa, one of whom is Kip, an Indian sapper who quickly becomes friends with the patient. Encouraged to reveal his story, the patient unveils the tale of how he came to be there… SO, WHAT IS HIS STORY?

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

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

Th Da Vinci Code - I expected to hate it - I actually rather enjoyed it.

The Da Vinci Code – I expected to hate it – I actually rather enjoyed it.

This is one of those books that was so over-hyped at the time of its release, I felt compelled to avoid reading it, thinking it would be too ‘trendy’ and I’d just be jumping on the bandwagon.  However, over the last few years, I’ve been trying to make my way through the BBC Big Read List from 2010 and The Da Vinci Code is on there.  No big deal, there’s plenty of other books on there I’ll never read. But then a friend told me that he’d discovered a love of reading thanks to The Da Vinci Code and I thought what the hell, maybe there’s some merit to it after all.

As it turns out, I quite liked it.  Sure it’s controversial in its subject matter and I can’t really be bothered debating that here.  Conspiracy theories have been rife for the last 2,000 years so I don’t think I’m going to solve anything on this blog.  (For those of you who don’t know – as I didn’t – the conspiracy concerns the nature of the Holy Grail, Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene, whether or not they were married, had a kid and Jesus, was in fact a normal bloke.)

It begins with the murder of Jacques Sauniere by an albino monk.  Who this monk is and who he works for is part of the mystery of the book.  What begins the hunt for the grail is the murder scene, with Sauniere being found in the pose of Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ with a cryptic code by his body.  An expert cryptologist, Sophie Neveu is called in, along with Robert Langdon, an academic symbologist(?) with whom Sauniere had scheduled a meeting.  From here, the mystery unfolds, keeping the reader guessing right until the end.

It’s written in a pulp fiction style, reminiscent of earlier detective novels, which in some parts works really well.  In other parts, it feels as if facts and historical information are clumsily shoe-horned into the story with little relevance.  It’s clear that Brown has researched this topic thoroughly, yet lots of his ‘facts’ are apparently wrong. Perhaps because of the religious themes in this book, this somehow seems to matter, but in reality, this is a work of fiction and should be taken as just that – a story.  And as a story I found it enjoyable, well constructed and rather clever.

Sample Text:

“Every faith in the world is based on fabrication… Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school… Should we wave a flag and tell the Buddhists that we have proof the Buddha did not come from a lotus blossom? Or that Jesus was not born of a literal virgin birth? Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.”

Further Reading:

If you like a contemporary mystery story you might like The Shadow Of The Wind

If you like pulp fiction literature you might like The Maltese Falcon

If you like the religious element you might like A Prayer For Owen Meany