Jed Rubenfeld

Headline Hbk £18.99

Released: 16th September 2010

Reviewer: Kirstie Long


A fanatical book reader, Kirstie works in Finance. The ‘evil day job’ fits in around her passion of writing, promoting writers of all genres and encouraging more people to read books. She has a special place in her heart for crime fiction.


The Death Instinct is the second novel by Jed Rubenfeld, currently the Robert R. Slaughter Professor of Law at Yale University. He has been described as 'one of the most elegant legal writers of his generation' and his first novel, The Interpretation of Murder, was the bestselling UK adult paperback title of 2007, and winner of the Richard and Judy Bookclub.  

On this basis, you would be expecting an extraordinary piece of prose, but for me that was not the case. I would note that having not read the first novel, I did some research both before and after reading and the reviews are divided between those very much in favour and those who are not, demonstrating that, as with all books, enjoyment is very much due to personal taste.  

The Death Instinct reintroduces us to the characters in the previous book: Younger and Littlemore, who meet again some ten years after the end of the last chapter of The Interpretation of Murder. Times have changed for them both, with Littlemore investigating crime as a Detective in New York’s Police Force and Younger having been using his medical skills in the war in Europe, now being rather disenchanted with life. The two get drawn into various adventures focussed around the main plot of a bomb set off on Wall Street, a second plot involving radiation poisoning and a third designed purely to involve Freud, which appears to be a big part of the publicity surrounding this tome.  

Set in early twentieth century New York, Washington and spinning through parts of Europe, the historical accuracy is excellently researched - I also found it interesting to learn ways around the prohibition laws. However, it is provided in a way similar to a text book interspersed with paragraphs designed to link the text to the story by describing what the characters are doing or thinking and the occasional spat of dialogue. It became hard to judge what was fact and what was fiction, which on the converse opinion could highlight the point of the malleability of fact and fiction in providing the factor of believability.  

The text book structure also meant that for me the characters were one dimensional, flat and had no likeability or warmth. The romance element was unbelievable because of this and actually came across to me as vaguely abusive. Since this appeared to be included solely for the purpose of having Freud re-appear and also introduce Marie Curie, it was irrelevant to the main plot line and had little impact on the secondary one.  

Those that loved the first book and those who like text book narrative and historical depth where fact and fiction are weaved well together, will love this novel.






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