A Short Post-Thanksgiving Entry

By James Hayman

I rarely write book reviews.  However, since I spent much of the holiday week doing very little of my own writing and, instead, happily devouring a book by a new-to-me (non-Maine) writer of historical thrillers, I thought I’d share it with you.

The book is called The Death Instinct. It’s author Jed Rubenfeld’s second novel  coming after The Interpretation of Murder which I haven’t read but intend to.

The Death Instinct is a terrific yarn that spins around a little known precursor of 9/11. A terrorist attack that took place on Wall Street on September 16, 1920 and killed over four hundred people. It was, according to the author’s note, “the most destructive act of terrorism in the United States until the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.”

The culprits behind the real bombing were never caught. However, in Rubenfeld’s tale fact and fiction are nicely blended as a trio of appealing heroes, Dr. Strathem Younger, NYPD Detective Captain Jimmy Littlemore and a beautiful young French woman named Collette Rousseau unravel a plot of fascinating, if unlikely, complexity. Naturally they ultimately get the bad guys.

The story takes the reader on a rapid-fire tour of 1920 New York, Paris, Vienna, Prague and Washington DC.  Real historical characters who play major roles the book include Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie, Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding, Senator Albert Fall and Thomas Lamont who, at the time, was the president of J.P. Morgan and Co. and the most important financial power-broker in the world.

The book contains one huge factual error that I, as a native New Yorker,  was stunned the copy editor didn’t catch.  Rubenfeld has the Brooklyn Bridge spanning the Hudson and not the East River in New York City. If the bridge had, in fact, gone in that direction it would have to have been called The New Jersey Bridge.

While Amazon reader-reviewers were all over the map on this one I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone with a fondness for the history New York City of nearly one hundred years ago.

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3 Responses to A Short Post-Thanksgiving Entry

  1. Barb Ross says:

    Hi James

    I didn’t know there was historical fiction about this event. If you’re interested in reading further, I recommend, “The Day Wall Street Exploded,” by Yale historian Beverly Gage. Quite an amazing chapter in our history.

    • MCWriTers says:

      Thanks Barb,

      I’ll see if Portland Public Library has a copy.

      Interestingly, Rubenfeld also teaches at Yale. A Professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School.


  2. VIcki Doudera says:

    Interesting review, James. I always find it amazing that so much fact-checking goes into magazine articles, but so little with books. Let us know how you like Jed’s first book.

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