22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
More Complex Than An Escher Drawing,
This review is from: The Alienist (Laszlo Kreizler & John Schuyler Moore) (Paperback)
The Alienist is a book that is filled with both mystery and horror and it is absolutely riveting. Although a little over five hundred pages long, The Alienist is so fantastic and reads so well that we barely notice the pages going by. I read it in two evenings, something that is very rare for me; when a book is as good as this one is, I like to savor it and make it last.
The first thing that most readers will wonder about is the somewhat strange title. What, exactly, is an alienist? Well, as Carr explains, prior to the twentieth century, those who were mentally ill were thought to be alienated, from society and from their own true nature as well. Those who studied the pathology of mental illness were thus known as "alienists."
The plot centers around three friends: a journalist, John Moore; an alienist, Lazlo Kreizler; and a newly-appointed Police Commissioner who just happens to be Teddy Roosevelt. The three are working to solve a series of brutal murders that involves a string of boy prostitutes.
Teddy, as would be expected, is on top of everything and appoints Dr. Kreizler to head the investigation into the murders. Moore is included by association only, it would seem, since he and Teddy went to Yale together. Coincidentally, Moore has only recently returned from England where he was busy covering the Jack the Ripper murders.
Kreizler immediately begins to track the murders using what is known and what is unknown and via assumption as well. The twists and turns in this book are so complex and varied that both information and assumptions change almost as quickly as the team of investigators can piece them all together.
As would be expected, tracking a serial killer in New York City isn't an easy job. People die, disappear and are murdered with frightening regularity and, usually, with little rhyme or reason. Roosevelt, however, is determined. Not only must he solve the murders, he must also clean up the NYPD in the process. There are, of course, the usual assortment of people who simply do not want the murders solved, in this case, corrupt policeman, underworld bosses and even the city's elite. Virtually everyone seems to hold the attitude that the murder victims, being prostitutes, shouldn't matter. In fact, there are those who think the city should be glad to rid of them. This is a book filled with both social and political turmoil, turmoil that threatens to overwhelm the murder case and make it impossible to solve.
The writing is fluid and really first-rate. The pages fly by and the suspense builds like a danse macabre. The characters are fully-developed but a little dark. The only bright spot in this fascinating but bizarre book is Teddy Roosevelt, himself. But it would, of course, be impossible to paint Teddy all somber, all of the time.
The Alienist is a dark and offbeat book and one that borders on the macabre, but it is also one that is fascinating and extremely well-written. All in all, an enormous accomplishment.