The first book I read this month was The Alienist by Caleb Carr. I’d been wanting to read this book for some time, and the 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge gave me the impetus to check this author out. This novel is the first in the Dr. Laszlo Kreizler series, and takes place in 1896 New York City. Someone has been brutally murdering child prostitutes, and Dr. Kreizler has been enlisted to find the killer before he claims another victim. In the synopsis according to Goodreads:
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.
This novel was a thrilling mystery, but also very gory. The manner in which the prostitutes were slain was horrific, and not for the faint of heart. However, reading about the way murders were solved during this period was as disturbing as it was fascinating. Reading about how only murders and crimes against the rich were considered worth the police’s time just amazes me and yet shouldn’t come as any surprise. Thinking about all the families that never got satisfaction from seeing their loved one’s murderer apprehended saddens me. I have long wanted to read more about 19th century New York, and this book provided a lot of insight into what life was like during this time. Before reading this, I knew that children were often used as child labor, but I never realized they were considered and treated like miniature adults. This made the way the child prostitutes were dealt with difficult to read at times.
“The defenders of decent society and the disciples of degeneracy are often the same people.”
Caleb Carr delivered an edge-of-your-seat thriller that didn’t let up from beginning to end. Filled with fun tidbits about 19th century New York City, the novel also showcased a lot of the city’s underworld including the gangs, drug dens and brothels. Also of note, the slaughtered prostitutes were male, and the novel gave a look at New York’s gay community and how they were viewed by “normal” society. If you are interested in history, historical fiction, and crime, then The Alienist is one to add to your TBR pile.
This is my twenty-first completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge