Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: "The Death Instinct"

Jed Rubenfeld's The Death Instinct (Riverhead, 2011) runs in much the same vein as his 2006 book The Interpretation of Murder. Set in New York (but this time with some stretches of international travel thrown in), with cameo appearances by a whole bunch of real historical characters (from Freud and Marie Curie - hence the international travel - to Bill Flynn and Sen. Albert Fall), this novel is set in 1920 but the style and pacing make the book read like a contemporary thriller.

For some good escapist reading, this book certainly does the trick. It's fast-paced, funny at times, with a few excellent sub-plots. The characters could use a little more fleshing out, and at times their movements seem chronologically implausible, but if you can suspend your disbelief for the few hours it will take you to read it, you probably won't notice.

As for the plot itself, Rubenfeld takes as his jumping-off point the still-unsolved 16 September 1920 Wall Street bombing, and creates a fictional scenario to explain the attack which involves a whole series of conspiracies leading up to the highest levels of finance and government (along with oil money, international terrorism, and warmongering based on forged documents). It comes across as a bit heavy-handed, to be honest - but nonetheless, I enjoyed the book, and recommend it for a nice long winter afternoon's entertainment.