The Alienist by Caleb Carr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Although it was a page-turner, this book took me a while to read. First, it is almost 500 pages long, and even though it was written in 1994, the story takes place in 1896. The author, Caleb Carr, uses some archaic expressions and a higher-than-average vocabulary making it feel as though it was actually written at the turn of the century.
The main character is Dr. Laszlow Kreizler, an alienist, which is what we now call a psychologist. He studies criminal behavior and uses methods and practices that were considered questionable by mainstream police standards of the time.
There is a sadistic killer on the loose in New York City. Someone is murdering young boy-whores and dismembering and denigrating the corpses. Dr. Kreizler calls his friend, crime reporter John Schuyler Moore, to the scene of a grisly crime, and there begins their efforts to nab the killer. With the encouragement of then police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, Sara Howard is added to the team. She is a character likely based on the first female detective. Also included are two new police detectives brought in by Roosevelt to combat corruption on the police force, Lucius and Marcus Isaacson. They bring some innovative techniques to the team that works together at 808 Broadway. Rounding out the motley crew are Stevie Taggert, a street-kid rescued by Kreizler, Cyrus Montrose, an African-American who becomes Kreizler's personal assistant, and Mary Palmer, a patient turned housekeeper turned love interest.
Kreizler's methods involve studying the victims, their lifestyles, and their habits, then determining what kind of person could have committed the crimes. He is profiling the criminal before profiling was an accepted practice. He, along with his team, take the reader on an adventure so full of twists and turns, with a mystery so complex, that the reader is unlikely to solve the mystery before the characters do.
Besides appearances from Teddy Roosevelt, there is also an appearance by J. P. Morgan as well as mentions of landmarks such as Bellevue Hospital that create an authentic setting. Caleb Carr creates dynamic characters that make the book seem more like nonfiction than the historical fiction it actually is. The plot is unpredictable, so the reader is in for some surprises along this bumpy ride.
I recommend this book for readers who, like me, have not seen the Netflix series The Alienist. Read the book first. You'll be glad you did.
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