Wednesday, January 26, 2011


First line: "Death is only the beginning: afterward comes the hard part."

Dr. Stratham Younger, Police Captain James Littlemore, Colette Rousseau and her young brother Luc are on Wall Street September 16, 1920, when a bomb explodes outside the U.S. Treasury and J.P. Morgan buildings. The bomb sets in motion an investigation of conspiracy for Littlemore and a bizarre escape effort for Colette Rousseau. Between the two characters THE DEATH INSTINCT takes readers on a world tour, meeting Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Marie Curie in Paris, the presidential-elect in Mexico and the Secretary of the Treasury in Washington D.C.

I'm consistently fascinated by books that weave history into the plot. And I'm astounded by authors that manage to do it as flawlessly as Rubenfeld has done in THE DEATH INSTINCT. Rubenfeld doesn't stop at history. He adds science and politics to the mix for an even richer look at the world his characters are navigating. If that makes you wrinkle your nose, give me just a minute (or two) to illustrate why I loved this book.

The setting and characters of THE DEATH INSTINCT are symbiotic in their effects on bringing the other to life in the book. For example, Colette Rouseau is a French woman, trained in radio-chemistry by Marie Curie. She is one of Curie's volunteers operating a mobile unit in World War I. Through the eyes of this woman we can see not only the devastation of the war but also the advances of science and how a woman's discoveries in this field differ from men's. Colette is a strong female but strong within the bounds of her culture and time period. She's also essential in illustrating the riches of the United States as compared to Europe.

Captain James Littlemore plays a bit of a Holmes-type character, being very observant and contemplative. Stratham Younger is not, however, the Watson type. He does bring in the scientific element of the duo, though. They both at times have a propensity for hysterical, dry humor that seems to come out of nowhere:

"Littlemore had no reply for a moment. Then he said, 'Don't put that in one of your stories, sir.'

'Don't put what?' said Enright.

'That the Police Commissioner of New York City is going to write detective stories for the fat-headed Chief of the federal Bureau of Investigation, who's starting a literary magazine and naming it after himself after botching the biggest investigation the country's ever seen. Nobody would believe it.'"
The plot involves a multitude of twists, some maybe predictable, others unseen. But Rubenfeld weaves the "death instinct" theme through them all adding layer and dimension to the plot. As Freud explains to Colette:
"'In science, my dear, there is no such thing as good or evil. The death instinct is part of our biology. You're familiar with chromatolysis - the natural process by which cells die? Every one of our cells brings about its own destruction at its allotted time. That's the death instinct in operation. Now if a cell fails to die, what happens? It keeps dividing, reproducing, endlessly, unnaturally. It becomes a cancer. That's what cancer is, after all - cells afflicted with the loss of their will to die. The death instinct is not evil, Miss Rousseau. In its proper place it's every bit as essential to our well-being as its opposite.'"
From beginning to end I devoured this book: its characters, the events and settings and well-placed historical trivia. I appreciated the challenges Rubenfeld threw at me and the imagery he created. THE DEATH INSTINCT is a truly fulfilling reading experience.

THE DEATH INSTINCT is available from Riverhead Books in hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-59448-782-8). This post is part of THE DEATH INSTINCT blog tour with TLC Book Tours. You can find links to additional reviews of this book at their site.


Kay January 26, 2011 at 8:34 PM  

Yep, I'm definitely going to read this one. Sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

iubookgirl January 28, 2011 at 4:35 PM  

I love books that blend fact and fiction too, and Rubenfeld does a great job. I found the passages on terrorism particularly interesting. If you'd like to read my thoughts, they are here.

Jen Forbus January 28, 2011 at 7:21 PM  

Kay, let me know what you think about it when you get to it. This one really hooked me. Loved it!

trish January 29, 2011 at 12:30 PM  

You sold me on the "Holmes-type character".

I also wanted to say that you have a great way of getting into a book without giving anything away. You make me look forward to the days when I have more time to read (less than 2 months away!).

Thanks for being on this tour, Jen!

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