Title: The Death Instinct
Hardback: 464 pages
Publication Date: 16/09/2010
Three years after the publication of his phenomenally successful debut novel, The Interpretation of Murder, Jed Rubenfeld’s second book has finally arrived. When a publisher states that a book has sold x number of copies, I have always tended to take the claim with a pinch of salt. So imagine my surprise to discover that the ‘million copies sold worldwide’ of The Interpretation of Murder is in fact underplaying its success. In fact it has sold just shy of a million copies…in the UK alone [I checked on BookScan – yes, I am that nerdy]. So, I think it’s safe to say that it has sold a lot more than a million worldwide.
Set 11 years after The Interpretation of Murder, The Death Instinct takes an actual event, the September 1920 bombing of Wall Street, as its starting point for a political thriller that blends real and fictional events and people effortlessly. The charismatic Dr. Stratham Younger returns as the central character [although disillusioned by psychoanalysis after his experiences during World War I], and is believable as a heroic action figure willing, and able, to fight and kill if need be. He gets assistance in the investigation from by-the-book detective Jimmy Littlemore [who is rather the fan of deductive reasoning] and beautiful French radiochemist and protégé of Marie Curie, Colette Rousseau [who Younger has fallen in love with – but then she does have a sexy accent, so who wouldn’t!].
The book begins at an extremely fast, thriller-esque pace as Colette is kidnapped, forcing Younger and Littlemore into a desperate car chase and shoot out to try to save her and her little brother. And although the pace does slow after the breakneck opening, it is only for a short period whilst two divergent story arcs are set up, after which the tension and action once more builds up to the climax of the novel. Having two separate story lines is a bold choice, and one that could, if handled incorrectly, have led to a clunky and discordant feel to the read. However Rubenfeld’s elegant style allows him to expertly manage them both as they run simultaneously, before blending them back together as the book reaches its conclusion.
And 1920 is a fascinating time for the setting: the world is still in shock after the First World War; Prohibition is in its infancy; radium has been discovered and America is awash with corruption and greed. But whilst Rubenfeld beautifully brings the period to life, he also never allows it to overpower the story and the action. With appearances from Marie Curie and Sigmund Freud, car chases, a frantic cross-border motorcycle journey, lost and stolen telegrams, shifty politicians, greed, violent confrontations and twists aplenty, this is a hugely entertaining read.