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Publisher's Summary

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

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Story

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • lyl
  • nashville, tn, United States
  • 12-30-12

Outstanding on several levels.

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.

79 of 81 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Jim N
  • Chicago, IL
  • 08-31-14

An Enjoyable Procedural

My expectations may have been too high going into this novel. It's an entertaining book but I found it overly long, bordering on tedious at times, especially because in essence, it's a pulp novel filled with larger-than-life characters. The Alienist takes a bit too much too much time to get where it's going.That said, the historical setting is interesting and Carr practically makes turn-of-the-century New York into an additional character.

George Guidall's reading is superb, one of the best I've ever heard for an audiobook. He brings the characters to life, raises the tension in scenes where it's appropriate and overall, just does a fantastic job.

74 of 76 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • Philip
  • Thousand Oaks, CA, United States
  • 10-18-16

Misses The Mark

First, the good news: I could listen to George Guidall read the phone book.

The bad news: The phone book would probably make a more interesting audiobook than "The Alienist." This work is seriously hampered by the dryness of it's prose and the dullness of its primary characters. Kreizler is no Sherlock Holmes. Not even close.

None of the dangers the main characters are exposed to in this story seem at all ominous or scary or even worrisome. None of the villains feel threatening and none of the heroes project any sense of heroism whatsoever -

And the book drones on and on, for twenty hours . . . like a history lesson written by a lackluster certified public accountant.

In the end, Guidall tries his best but even he can't save "The Alienist."

21 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Janice
  • Sugar Land, TX, United States
  • 10-21-13

"We have to go . . . I'll explain later"

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.

64 of 69 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Serial murder mystery back in 1890's New York City

Would you listen to The Alienist again? Why?

Yes

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

What other book might you compare The Alienist to and why?

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"

Any additional comments?

If you like historical novels about subjects not normally addressed, you should enjoy this book.

30 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Good for historical details

John Schuyler Moore, a crime reporter for The New York Times, recalls an investigation he was involved with from 1896 in which he and group of others search for serial killer of young boy prostitutes. The killer mutilates these boys in a horrific fashion, yet because they are prostitutes and because of police corruption, there is a lack of real interest in investigating by the local authorities. Moore joins forces with Laszlo Kreizler, a psychologist and others to make a psychological profile and find the killer .

Caleb Carr does a good job in recalling historical details of New York in the 1890's. Moore narrates the book and he is looking 23 years into the past. Using the limited resources of the time, the main characters painstakingly make a profile the type of person who would commit the killings. Forensic medicine and psychology were in its infancy and fingerprints were not completely believed to be of any importance. Carr does bring to life the historical details with sights and smells of 19th century New York. And this is the best aspect of the book. From filthy dark tenements of the poorer sections of Manhattan to the wonderful upscale multicourse meals of Delmonico's restaurant. We get a taste of the limited role of women and blacks at the time. What he fails to convey in this book is characters with any dimension to them. I really did not fall in love with any of the characters. Especially the character Moore who narrates. Little is known about him except he lives with his disapproving grandmother and writes for the New York Times. Carr gives us some mystery about Laszlo Kreizler's past to try to hold the reader's interest but it is not enough to make Kreizler really stand out and be the exceptional character of the title of the book. Carr seems to skim onto certain flaws in the characters but fails to go into enough depth to make the reader really care enough about them. All the other characters have smaller roles as support. What was really annoying about this book is that often the characters worked in pairs and when one had an epiphany and realized an important clue, they would grab the other character and say "we have to go now" without sharing any information with the other baffled character. Giving the book a made for TV feel. I know this was to add suspense but this gimmick was used too often in the book and got old fast.

And there were times in this book where it got just go bogged down in small, small details and just starts to plod. I mean I liked the profiling and I love historical mysteries but at times I needed it to pick up the pace a bit and move forward.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Absolutely fabulous!

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!

23 of 25 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Historical fiction laced with morbid murders

Long, but very well paced story. Plenty of action throughout. The only thing I didn't like about the book is that the crimes in the book are so horrible, or described that way, that it almost gets funny because it is so morbid. If crimes against children make you queasy, you might want to skip this one. Perfect narration!

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

This one really didn't work for me.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

No, it gave way too much detail, and took forever to reveal anything. In a word .. Boring !!

Would you recommend The Alienist to your friends? Why or why not?

There are so many red herrings. The first Chapter was great. Mislead me to believe it was going to be more of a historical book.

What does George Guidall bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

George Guidall is the only reason I listened to the book at all. He's always great. Bless his heart, he tried to make it interesting.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I think when they discovered one of the main characters brothers. You find out a lot his family history, it gave depth to the overall story.

Any additional comments?

I played this book through my sleep, and when I awoke 6 hours later, it seemed as if it were in the same paragraph. I will mention I have listened to many Caleb Carr books, and enjoyed them all. He has a great writing style and I started this one expecting to enjoy this one as well.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Immerse yourself in Late 19th Century NYC

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.

20 of 23 people found this review helpful