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The Alienist (Laszlo Kreizler & John Schuyler Moore) Paperback – 6 Jun 2002
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Carr's stylish tale is brilliantly researched and written with commanding elegance and supreme confidence. (IRISH INDEPENDENT)
a vivid picture of fin-de-siecle New York. (TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT)
This first novel, superbly written and transfixingly gripping, is an extraordinary achievement. (SCOTSMAN)
Superb. Too good to leave on a beach. (MAIL ON SUNDAY)
The ground-breaking historical whodunnit, in which 1890s New York is as much a character as the investigators.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
It's an interesting premise. It's 1896 in New York City and the Police Commissioner (Teddy Roosevelt no less) needs to catch a killer who is terrorising young male prostitutes (and by young I mean child) when most of his force just want to ignore these deaths as unimportant. He calls in his friend Doctor Lazlo Kreizler to help. Kreizler is an Alienist (that is a psychiatrist) at a time when Psychology is a science just finding it's feet and much disliked by the powers that be. He also assigns a couple of officers who have knowledge of new (and not legally accepted at this time) techniques like fingerprinting.
So basically it's a psychologist profiler and a forensics team trying to catch a serial killer. Uninspiring stuff except for the setting which adds a twist. Kreizler is making this up as he goes along - and you really feel that. And he and his team have to work in secrecy because people don't trust 'alienists' or the new forensics. That twist and the realisation of the setting is enough to elevate the story above your average crime thriller. The late 19th century was a time in transition. Science was marching on at an accelerating rate, women were starting to maneuver for suffrage and other rights and similar. The world was changing and people don't like change. And the setting is so beautifully evoked in this novel that you feel that same sense of uncertainity. And the characters are beautifully drawn as well, rich and vivid and at also perfect representative of the changes shaking the world.
But there's a problem - well several.
Caleb Cain is an historian - in the vivid authenticity of the setting it shows in a good way. There are times when it shows in a not so good way. That is to say he infodumps in a very obtrusive way. We get passages of unnecessary backstory and long explanations of the "new" techniques. Sometimes it reads more like a history book than a novel. At one point I was skimming and thinking 'enough of this, get me back to story'. This makes it a little hard to get into (fortunately it starts with an excellent hook that I bore with the turgid bit until it got going again).
He is also heavy handed with the foreshadowing which makes the twists unsurprising which is always unfortunate. Foreshadowing should make you slap your head because you missed it not spell it out.
So all in all The Alienist is good read - good enough that I want to read the sequel - but flawed in various important ways.
After due consideration I shall grant it 3.5 stars rounded down.
I disagree with the reviewer that thinks it's too long. The beauty about this book is the manner in which it sucks you into the seedy underbelly of New York in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and the research and information we get as readers is startlingly comprehensive: criminology, alienism (nascent psycho-analysis and psychiatry) and detailed corruption. Theodore Roosevelt is name-checked and plays a significant role in the story.
For anyone keen to delve into the best that New York writing can offer (this was a NYT bestseller and sold millions) then I would recommend this unreservedly. It is not a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am thriller, more of a totally believable and often surprising journey into the labyrinth of horrific crime that no-one - then, at least - wanted to believe was real. But it was.
Both The Alienist and it's sequel, The Angel of Darkness, are wonderful historical mysteries with gritty and exciting storylines set in flavorful turn of the century New York. Carr does this better than anyone I have ever read. You can smell the wet cobblestone streets after it rains and hear the clip clop of horses pulling carriages under gaslights. The Alienist is dripping with atmosphere and the characters, both fictional and historical, are fleshed out and real, so much so that by the time we are done with this one and go to read The Angel of Darkness we feel as though we are visiting old friends.
When Lazlo's old friend Theodore Roosevelt is confronted with several murders of young boy prostitutes, so gruesome that even the most seasoned and hardened of professionals can barely stomach being called to the murder scenes, he makes a decision that will change the face of police work forever. He 'unofficially' let's Kreizler form a small group to pursue the killer through psychological profiling. Police secratary Sara Howard and crime reporter and best friend John Moore, who knows the underbelly of New York all to well, are two of the main players in this teriffically exciting mystery.
Kreizler's servant Cyrus, and young Stevie, saved from the streets by the kind Kriezler's methods, also play a large part, as do the two police brothers Lucius and Marcus Isaacson, who use revolutionary forensic methods to help close in on a disturbed serial killer who's interval between killings is getting shorter. As they close in on who the killer may be and where he will strike next, by profiling him and understanding the impetus for his brutal crimes, the danger hits closer to home than any of our friends had expected.
There are moments so exciting in this book that you just have to make yourself put it down, and the atmosphere is wonderful. We wish that we also could be there at Delmonicos to eat and enjoy the atmosphere as our new found friends plan out their next move. I read the second book first and it did not lessen my enjoyment when I went back to read this one. They are equally good. Moore narrates this one and a young Stevie narrates the second, giving both these wonderful books a special flavor, and a very real insight into human, and inhuman behavior.
There is tragedy and friendship in this mystery as well, and we come to love these people. Both books are long, The Alienist about 500 pages and The Angel of Darkness about 600. But you will be sorry to turn the last page. This fine novel and it's sequel are great reads and hold a special place among my books. If you love to read you do not want to miss this one!