Book Review: The Alienist

The Alienist

Caleb Carr

Random House

512 pages

It’s 1896, New York City, and teenage male prostitutes are being brutally killed by a serial killer.  The police commissioner at the time, Teddy Roosevelt (yes, THE Teddy Roosevelt) wants the crimes solved at all costs, and he secretly employs the help of Dr Lazlo Kreizler.  Kreizler is an alienist, which is a fancy name for a psychologist, and he is using his background to determine the criminal’s motives and history based on facts he can glean from the respective crime scenes.  Today, Kreizler would be called a criminal profiler, but back in 1896, there was no precedent, so his work had to be completed on the down low.

Kreizler enlisted the help of a Times journalist, John Schuyler Moore, as well as Roosevelt’s secretary Sara and two brother doctors, Marcus and Lucius.  The five rounded out a team that spent every waking minute poring over the cases and carefully constructing the traits of the perp.  As time wears on, they are in a frenzy attempting to find the killer before he strikes again.  Likewise, they are trying to protect themselves because they are being stalked as well.

The Alienist took me ten days to read.  Now, granted, it is a fairly long book but the mystery keeps you engaged throughout.  So I am not sure why it took me so long to finish the book.  I can only surmise that it was just bad timing, with too many distractions coming along.  In fact, there were at least two or three days where I didn’t have a chance to read a single word at all.  But I digress . . . on to my thoughts.

The Alienist was my very first RIP book and it was a great choice. Very atmospheric.  I loved the setting of New York City at the turn of the century.  Delmonico’s, a famous NYC restaurant, was mentioned frequently, and there were even some in depth descriptions of some NYC slums, so there was quite a bit involved.

As for the mystery aspect, it was different than that of most mysteries, in the sense that you know exactly what the detectives know.  They discover the identity of the madman about halfway through the book but then there is the matter of tracking him down and capturing him.  So there is no AHA moment at the end where you discover who the bad guy is–you’ve already uncovered that!

The Alienist is definitely a psychological thriller.  You really get into the mindset of the killer and you learn why he is driven to kill.  It is hard for most people to fathom, but laid out as it is in this book, there is no question as to why someone like this would need to kill.

I am glad I started off RIP with a bang, even if my reading took longer than I normally like.

Other Reviews:

A Little Bookish

BiblioFreak Blog

I purchased this book years ago, and it has languished on my shelves ever since.


15 Responses

  1. This sounds very interesting and creepy. I know what you mean about having so many distractions that a book I normally would speed through takes days to finish.

  2. I’ve read about this book before and it still sounds so compelling – so much so that I in fact have a copy although I haven’t managed to actually read it yet.

    I also don’t like it when it takes me longer than I think it should to finish a book – but at least in this case the book was a good one. 🙂

  3. Sounds like an interesting book.

  4. I’ve had this book on my shelves for a few years after hearing other people rave about (just never got round to reading it myself). I love psychological thrillers and sounds perfect for RIP – glad you enjoyed 🙂

  5. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this one. Sounds like the author had an interesting take on the psychological thriller genre, and I like that you really get into the killer’s motivation. Plus, you’re so right about turn of the century NYC being atmospheric.

  6. i get in to funks like that too where i like the book, but it just takes me forever to finish the book. i don’t blame you though with a book weighing at over 500 pages. this one sounds interesting although a bit creepy. i’ll have to make sure i’m in the mood for it before i start this one.

  7. YIKES! is this based on a true story?

  8. I am curious about this book. I have it on my TBR pile somewhere. I will have to read it at some point.

  9. I read this years and years ago and loved it. I recently bought a copy so that I could re-read it. Glad you enjoyed it!

  10. I hate when it takes me forever to read something and especially for mo good reason! But this sounds reallly interesting! I lobe how they had criminal profilers and such back then even though it wasn’t clearly identified and wasn’t as accepted. Why are psychologists called alienists though??

  11. I haven’t heard about this book. Thanks for putting it on my radar. I needed one more book for the R.I.P. challenge.

  12. Fantastic review! I read this years ago (closer to when it first came out) and had forgotten much about it but your review brought so much of it back. It was a multi-layered book, and I remember really liking it. Thanks for reminding me of this book. Perhaps a reread is in order.

  13. I remember being so caught up in this book when I read it a few years ago. In fact, I was staying at a hotel and I couldn’t find the book after housekeeping had cleaned my room. I was going mad looking for it and only after asking did I find they had stashed it in one of the drawers.

  14. I’ve seen this book occasionally and been meaning to read it. I’m glad that you liked this one quite a bit, even if it took you long to finish!

  15. […] Reviews: Entomology of a Bookworm, A Little Bookish, Reviews by Lola, Stella Matutina Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it […]

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