Do you know what an alienist is? I sure didn’t, until I read (actually listened to) Caleb Carr’s novel, The Alienist. Alienist is the term applied to early psychiatrists. The term was used in the late 1800’s, when the novel is set. Alienists were often utilized to determine the competence of a defendant in court.
In Carr’s novel we see, what could have been, the beginnings of profiling. His alienist, Dr. Kreizler, assembles a team and they become a bit like the BAU off of Criminal Minds. Only, it is the 1896, they aren’t supposed to be working the case, and they don’t get to fly around the country on a jet. Many historical figures make appearances in this novel, but the most important one is Theodore Roosevelt. At this time, he is the police commissioner of New York City. He asks his old college friend, Kreizler, to help him with a series of child murders.
This novel gives a little taste of what New York City was like at that time. This was something I found particularly interesting since I’ve never been to New York and don’t know much about its history. Early forensics are used and discussed quite a bit in this novel, which will particularly interest those of you who have really gotten into forensic themed TV shows and novels. It, apparently, was not easy to get the common forensics procedures used today put into common use. Many people just thought they were hokum.
I also enjoyed his main female character Sara Howard. She is an early feminist. She gets a job as a secretary at the police station because her goal is to become New York’s first female detective. She doesn’t like men to watch their words around her, and she carries a loaded derringer on her at all times. She isn’t afraid to use it.
My husband and I listened to this one together. We had to be careful when the children were in the car; parts of it are pretty gruesome. However, we really got caught up in, not only the investigation, but the lives of the different characters.
I highly recommend this book to those of you who enjoy period or historical fiction and mystery genres. This is well written and engrossing. The characters are diverse and interesting. Also, you get to look forward to seeing them again in the next novel The Angel of Darkness, which my husband and I are listening to now. It has the same characters, but a different narrator.
Apparently there was a plan to make this into a movie back in the ’90s. However, they had a hard time getting it done. This was partly due to the gruesome murder scenes. Many producers had a hard time figuring out how to film them. That seems strange given all the death and morgue scenes on TV from shows like Bones, CSI, and Criminal Minds. However, these scenes would involve young boy prostitutes, and I can see where putting it into actual production could cause some issues.
That brings me to those of you who probably wouldn’t enjoy it. The murder victims ARE children. Carr doesn’t pull any punches about what life was like back then for children on the streets. Especially immigrant children. There are some dark parts, bloody parts, and the murders themselves are graphic and detailed. I know some people who can’t read books that involve harm coming to children, and some that just have sensitive tummies. So, be aware if you fall into those categories, this is not a book for you.
Just a few words about the audiobook narrator. George Guidall reads well and does a great job with voices. We enjoyed him almost as much as we enjoy John Lee. Maybe we will see what else he reads when we look for our next book…
Note about posting schedule: I’ve been blogging for a couple of weeks now. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays have been my posting days so far. However, next week I start back to work (I teach an evening class). I’m not sure how my schedule will work out with blogging, mothering, teaching, and planning. To give me some time to adjust, I will only post on Mondays and Thursdays starting next week. I will do this for at least a couple weeks. If I think it is doable I will go back to three times a week. If not, I assure you, that I will go back to three posts a week this summer.