Today I am reviewing The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld for TLC Book Tours. As always, I am provided with a copy of the book for my honest review.
About the book: New York, 1920. World War I is over. But the Roaring Twenties have not yet arrived. Factories are closing, families are losing their homes. Jobless men are forbidden to drink by the new Prohibition laws. The streets of Manhattan teem with seething resentments and inarticulate passions. Wall Street … explodes. It is the most destructive and deadly terrorist attack ever committed on United States soil. Caught in the blast are war veteran Stratham Younger, police detective Jimmy Littlemore, and the beautiful but secretive Colette Rousseau. A mysterious trail of evidence, together with a series of inexplicable attacks on Colette and a secret buried deep in her past, lead the three on a harrowing but thrilling journey from Paris to Prague, from the roof of the world’s tallest skyscraper to the secret underground vaults of the U.S. Treasury, from the Vienna home of Sigmund Freud to the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C. As the frightening, seemingly disjointed pieces of the puzzle come together, Younger and Littlemore unravel Colette’s secret – and the shocking truth behind the terror in Wall Street.
Set against the backdrop of the devastating Wall Street bombing of September, 1920 – a real historical event that remains unsolved to this day – The Death Instinct expertly blends fact and fiction, killing and passion, suspense and adventure in a page-turning thriller about the hidden depths of our most savage instincts.
My Review: First, let me say that I had no idea that this horrific act of terrorism occurred in the early part of the 20th Century. On September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded on Wall Street. This act of terrorism killed and injured 400 people. To this day, the crime has not been solved. Mr. Rubenfeld uses this event as his starting point in writing this fascinating and compelling historical mystery. Employing a mixture of fictional and real historial characters, the author weaves factual events together with a story line involving a police detective, war veteran, a French woman (who has trained under Marie Curie) and her younger brother.
The mystery is tremendously detailed and Rubenfeld paints a vivid portrait of New York City in 1920, as well as Europe after the end of World War I. The action takes place in the United States as well as the Continent. This terrorist act “remained the most destructive act of terrorism in the United States until the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.” In Rubenfeld’s telling of the story, we see strong similarities between 1920 and now – in the mood of the country and the rush to war.
This book is very well written and extensively researched. We learn about Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie, radium poisoning (fascinating and horrific), the toll of the First World War on soldiers and citizens and corruption among government officials.
I found it hard to care very much about the character of Stratham Younger. He is world weary and cynical about everything, partly due to what he has gone through in WWI; nevertheless, that doesn’t make for a strong protagonist. It keeps him removed in a way that is off-putting. His relationship with Sigmund Freud seemed a bit too contrived and I never really bought it. While these other sections of the plot were interesting, I was most compelled by the effort to solve the bombing led by Detective Littlemore. This, to me, was the heart of the story. My compliments to Mr. Rubenfeld: His writing made this event so riveting that I want to learn more about it.
Rubenfeld has written a complex and absorbing historical mystery. I think you will find it fascinating.
About the Author: Jed Rubenfeld is the author of the international bestseller The Interpretation of Murder. He is a professor at Yale University Law School and is one of the country’s foremost experts on constitutional law. He wrote his undergraduate thesis at Princeton University on Sigmund Freud. He lives in Connecticut with his family.
The Death Instinct is being released this month by Riverhead Books.
Congratulations to my friend Jim Parsons on winning the Golden Globe for his work on The Big Bang Theory. Jim was my student in San Diego and is also my friend. It couldn’t happen to a nicer, more talented guy.
We’re headed into a day long snow and ice event here in our neck of the woods. I’m hoping the weather predictions turn out to be over-hyped. Send positive thoughts our way!