The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld***

Reading dates: 19 February–26 March 2016

There are two elemental forces in the universe. One draws matter toward matter. That is how life comes into being and how it propagates. In physics, this force is called gravity; in psychology, love. The other force tears matter apart. It is the force of disunification, disintegration, destruction. If I’m correct, every planet, every star in the universe is not only drawn toward the others by gravity, but laos pushed away from them by a force of repulsion we can’t see.

I seem to be on a path of awarding 3 stars to every crime novel I read, yet, these stars are given (or two taken away) for very different reasons. The Death Instinct is a very competent novel, set in New York in the 1920s at the time of the Treasury bomb. The narration is very well research and fact and fiction merge seamlessly, coherently and in a very dramatic way. Freud as a character is again joyous to read (as in Rubenfeld’s previous novel ‘The Interpretation of Murder’) and well researched. Even the resolution to the mystery is reasonable. It is certainly better that the Frank Tallis novels I read. Yet, it is just that, literarily just above average. Good research, interesting characters, reasonable writing and a vibrant story don’t make a book I want to re-read. There is something missing here, some flair, some risk, something. Perhaps it is the point of view. The narrator is omniscient so we don’t know anyone very well. Perhaps it is the construction, acceptable but also standard. And Freud was anything but those things: omniscient or standard. He deserved a little better I think.