The year is 1896, the place, New York City. On a cold March night New York Times reporter John Schuyler Moore is summoned to the East River by his friend and former Harvard classmate Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a psychologist, or "alienist." On the unfinished Williamsburg Bridge, they view the horribly mutilated body of an adolescent boy, a prostitute from one of Manhattan's infamous brothels.
The newly appointed police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, in a highly unorthodox move, enlists the two men in the murder investigation, counting on the reserved Kreizler's intellect and Moore's knowledge of New York's vast criminal underworld. They are joined by Sara Howard, a brave and determined woman who works as a secretary in the police department. Laboring in secret (for alienists, and the emerging discipline of psychology, are viewed by the public with skepticism at best), the unlikely team embarks on what is a revolutionary effort in criminology-- amassing a psychological profile of the man they're looking for based on the details of his crimes. Their dangerous quest takes them into the tortured past and twisted mind of a murderer who has killed before. and will kill again before the hunt is over.
Fast-paced and gripping, infused with a historian's exactitude, The Alienist conjures up the Gilded Age and its untarnished underside: verminous tenements and opulent mansions, corrupt cops and flamboyant gangsters, shining opera houses and seamy gin mills. Here is a New York during an age when questioning society's belief that all killers are born, not made, could have unexpected and mortal consequences.
©1994 Caleb Carr (P)2012 Simon & Schuster Audio
No fluff here! The listener gets real depth in plot, history of the times, application of method of finding out why people do what they do and interesting characters. PLUS, one of the best narrators around today, George Guidall. He is terrific! A born storyteller. He blends so well into the book that you forget he is there. He is part of the story.
There are some stories that are so compelling, so riveting, and just so good that re-entry to the real world upon completion is difficult. This is one of those stories. The general premise of the plot is simple enough: a special task force consisting of an alienist (known today as a psychologist or psychiatrist), his reporter friend, and several forward-thinking members of the NY police department set out to capture a dangerous and cunning serial killer. And while this story line has become somewhat hackneyed thanks to tedious TV shows like "Criminal Minds" and "CSI", in Carr's late 19th century NY, it is instead fascinatingly rich in intrigue. Part of what makes this story work so well is Carr's detailed knowledge of what life was like in NY at that point in history. Indeed, several key historical figures such as J.P Morgan and Theodore Roosevelt are given fictional roles in this tale. As the intrepid task force's investigation takes them to all corners of the city, from ramshackle tenement dwellings on the lower east side, to the gilded-age haunts of the uber-wealthy, it is impossible not to be pulled into Carr's richly detailed 19th century world. It is not a pretty place, by any means. Struggling with poverty, corruption, and depravity, the New York City of 1896 was a city in transition. Technological marvels like the Brooklyn bridge tower in sharp contrast to the dank, squalid houses of ill repute so commonly found at the time. And this is the perfect backdrop on which to weave a tale of a depraved serial killer--a monstrous product of this dark, seedy world--and an enlightened alienist's attempt to understand what could make such a man, in order to bring him to capture.
This is a book not to be missed, and one of my all-time favorites of the "mystery & thriller" genre. I have both read the print copy and listened to the audio version. The narrator does a great job with this superb work.
Its a fascinating look at the lifestyle of late 19th Century New York City
From the sights and smells of a culture just beginning to move from being a horse drawn society to the "Toasted Angels" ( bacon wrapped oysters broiled ) of Delmonico's Restaurant, its a glimpse of a time long gone and yet still effects us today
I generally read science fiction or military history, but this book is part of my permanent library. It recreates a world with the same depth and development as Frank Herbert's "Dune" or Larry Niven's "The Mote in Gods Eye"
If you like historical novels about subjects not normally addressed, you should enjoy this book.
Sometime back in 1996 I was browsing the fiction section in Barnes and Noble and for some reason this book jumped out at me. I took it home and read it almost in one sitting. Its been one of my favorites ever since. The audio version of the book is excellent. George Guidall has a very easy voice to listen to and it is easy to get lost in the world of 1896 New York City.
Caleb Carr writes life like characters you care about whose lives you get involved in and whose destinies you become invested in. We even get to meet Theodore Roosevelt and, to a lesser extent, his family.
This book is a historically accurate thriller. It deals with gruesome subjects and at times the way people acted and reacted in this book made me sad. Sometimes they made me angry. I also laughed out loud a few times.
Ill end this with an interesting quote from the author:
"The biggest challenge was to study the psychological literature of that day so that none of my characters would know more than they could have known in terms of psychology."
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
Some previous reviews refer to The Alienist as an historical “Criminal Minds” or “CSI”. I agree, but perhaps for a different reason. It struck me as a TV script in the spirit of those shows, just placed in a different time period. In spite of trying to make the dialogue sound dated, the overall sensibilities were too modern, with stock characters now mandatory in episode TV – the plucky feminist ahead of her time, the faithful manservant wise beyond his station, the precocious kid who proves he can hold his own with the grown-ups in times of danger. Social issues such as race, roles and rights of women and children, and homosexuality are handled with a level of tolerance more reflective of today than over 100 years ago. I also question the availability of forensic knowledge and profiling that would make a modern BAU agent proud.
In good historical fiction the history needs to weave seamlessly through the narrative, and not every fact found in the research process needs to be used. Side notes about everything from opera to fashion, to every course in every meal, and the furnishings and history of every building slows down a narrative that should have moved at a more urgent pace. Long passages on various theories of psychology and criminology (was that even a word in 1896?) slowed us even more – over an hour was spent dissecting each line, word, and penmanship of a letter from the killer, covering many points repetitively. Contrived miscommunications and false assumptions abound. The investigators could be unbelievably astute one minute, then oblivious to clues that had been scattered like Easter eggs in the grass, until the “ah-hah” moment when someone looks up and says “we’ve got to go NOW - no time to explain”. Obviously meant to heighten the tension, it was used so often by all team members that it became frustrating and led inevitably to another detailed review of information we had already covered – we got it already. There were many other "give-me-a-break" moments, but in the spirit of no-spoilers, I'll refrain from further comment.
I wish an editor had taken the book in hand to work out these structural problems, because Carr’s plot and concept (basically a reworking of Holmes-Watson-Lestrade chase The Ripper) is well imagined. Had he trusted his readers, Carr might have eliminated the massive redundancy that only added weight, not depth.
Yes I would. The book is full of suspense and wonder from the very beginning. I love how real historical figures were injected into the novel. That gave it an almost "based on a true story" feel.
Yes, it did. I just KNEW I knew who the killer was going to be. At every step I was trying to figure out what new evidence would point to someone I had thought about.
It's a tie between Laszlo Kreizler and Teddy Roosevelt. I loved Laszlo's nonchalant personal and professional style. He was a champion for what he believed in. Teddy was a technology pioneer and a sure-fire advocate for justice and ethics. His progressive personality was like a fiery spark that would suddenly burst into flames in the midst of a dark room.
The Alienist - Enter the mind of a killer ...
Getting ready to read the sequel - The Angel of Darkness. I heard it was just as good.
What a fabulous find. (I actually stumbled across this book by looking for books narrated by George Guidall, and bought it despite the occasional negative review. I was surprised to learn that so many of my friends had already read this book when it came out in the 90s because I hadn't heard of it.)
I have not enjoyed an audiobook so much in many months. It was a riveting listen, and as usual, George Guidall did an excellent job at bringing out the characters and making them feel so real. I was enthralled from beginning to end, and was so relieved to learn that there was a sequel (which I enjoyed almost as much as The Alienist).
I am totally sad this listen is over…I just wish Caleb Carr would write more in this series.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!
I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.
I read this book years ago when it first came out and loved it. When I saw it was available on Audible with George Guidall narrating, I was thrilled. Two of my favorites at one time. How great is that?
First off, let's talk about George. I adore him. He is not just 'the voice' of Walt Longmire in Craig Johnson's series, he IS Walt. So much so, that when I began listening to "The Alienist" I had to keep reminding myself that Walt was not in this book. It took me at least 4 hours of listening before I could get that out of my head. (Victoria Moretti appears, too.)
Now to the book itself... There's no need to rehash the plot - you'll find that everywhere you look. What I find remarkable is how much of New York City in the 1890s comes through in the descriptions. You can feel it, smell it, hear it. You know what it was like to dine at Delmonico's late at night and to walk down dark streets. You get to know the hoodlums and rapscallions. You can feel what it's like to be at the Met. It is totally absorbing. It's true when you read it, but even more obvious when you listen.
This is a splendid book - though dark and gruesome in places - and definitely credit-worthy if you like historical fiction or mysteries.
The best one yet.
Yes! I couldn't wait to hear what would happen next.
A dramatic story of crime history.
A very richly detailed, dark story of turn of the century New York City. I don't quite agree with the narration choice. I think a younger sounding man would have been a better choice but George Guidall does a good job.
I've purchased the second in the series and am currently listening to it.
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