The Alienist by Caleb Carr

61octk5jgcl._sx342_Fiction – audiobook. Read by George Guidall. Simon & Schuster, 2012. 20 hours, 3 minutes. Purchased. 

On a cold March night in 1896, New York Times crime reporter John Schulyer Moore is summed to the East River of New York City by his friend, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. As a psychologist – or, “alienist”, as the profession was then known – Kriezler has been brought in by the newly appointed police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, in examine the mutilated body and help capture the person responsible. After all, as Roosevelt and Moor explain, only a truly depraved person would inflict this level of crime.

Kriezler is dismissive of this belief, thinking that there must be a reason to why the murderer behaves the way he or she does. But he agrees to take on the case provided that Roosevelt allow Moore to assist him. As part of the deal, the two are joined by Sara Howard, a secretary in the police department who longs to be a police officer in her own right.

This book features several elements that usually add up to a fantastic read for me: (1) features historical figures whom I love in a fictional setting, (2) focuses on the psychology of the criminal rather than solely on the crime, (3) set amid the underbelly of Victorian society, and (4) a spunky, non-nonsense female character intent on breaking into a role strictly off limits to females. Unfortunately, these elements didn’t come together in a satisfying manner to make this a must read for me.

My experience with this novel reminded me of the one I had with Drood by Dan Simmons, a (sort of) crime novel focused on the mania of the criminal that is set in Victorian London and features two well-known men, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Unlike Simmons’ novel, I did feel Carr’s came together in a satisfying way at the end, and I particularly enjoyed the final third as the narrator (Moore), Sara, and Kriezler started to focus entirely catching the criminal based on what was learned from his backstory.

But, like Simmons’ novel, this one suffered from Carr’s desire to insert every fact, rumor, and idea he has about this time period into the story. This information weighs down the novel tremendously and, as I started in my review of Drood, “there is no other way to describe this than as a slog”.

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