The Alienist (book) by Caleb Carr – Review

The Alienist is the second novel by the American author Caleb Carr and first novel of the Kreizler series, which today has three titles, published in 1994.

Set in 1896, the novel stars John Moore, a young Times journalist who decides to tell us about the strange and obscure events that took place in New York that year.

The whole story begins with the discovery of the corpse of Santorelli, a prostitute child. On the scene of the crime there are the police chief Theodore Roosevelt and Laszlo Kreizler, an alienist who is currently under the eye of the storm because all his theories on psychology are seen as big lies. Soon the protagonists understand that Santorelli’s is just one of the many murders committed by their man and that he kills a particular category. They are responsible for stopping it in great secrecy with the help of a team made up of very young elements, including a woman, the first woman to enter the police in New York.

I liked the book so much and, as a fan of thrillers, I noticed that it was almost a forerunner of the psychological thriller genre that is now the greatest selling. But it is very different. Already in the kind of story. Although everything is focused on the serial killer’s discovery, the construction of the story is original, and still remains such after 24 years.

In fact in “The alienist” a lot of human nature is investigated and the whole construction of the investigation is psychological. Rather than discovering the nominal identity of the murderer, there is an intention to discover his psychological profile through the details that are gathered in the bodies and in general in his modus operandi. So the focus is not so much to understand what his name is, but to understand how that person’s mind is and why he does such inhuman acts.

The historical part is not to be underestimated. Carr gives us a very good representation of New York in the late nineteenth century. Both geographically, so streets, meeting places; both historically. New York is corrupt, full of crime, the mass is ignorant and unaware of everything. Carr represents all the degradation and violence of humanity that were typical of that era and that are still a problem for us. Because human nature never changes. And I believe that this is the great theme of the book: human nature.

Being a novel, one can not speak of the prose. And I liked Carr’s one, both for its fluency, both for the particular choices, especially for the genre. The book is narrated in the first person, which is not very common in thrillers that are generally in the third, and the narrator is one and only one, many thrillers in first person have more storytellers (eg The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl). I can only think of a thriller built this way and it’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, which is not a real thriller. And even this novel in the end is not.

Since it is narrated in the first person, we have a distinction between the John auctor and the John agens. Generally, in thrillers, the auctor disappears into the agens and you only hear it sometimes just to anticipate a very important event, but in “The Alienist” no. The John who’s writing is different from the John who lived in 1896 and we warn him.

Finally, it is a novel based little on dialogue, but a lot on narration and descriptions. There are so many descriptions, New York is beautifully described. The dialogue is right. Crime is a genre very “spoken”, grant me the term, but this book, however, is very narrated. There are entire chapters in which there is no dialogue, which is not at all common in the genre. Another reason I associate it with Mr. Ripley.

The only negative is that I did not like those parts a bit of action, which I found a bit repetitive, and in some there were stylistic slips. Not that it was badly written, but the change was noticeable.

So I highly recommend the book, especially if you like crime or are interested in psychology. I study at university and the book has impressed me a lot.

Rating: 78/100

My review ends here, but now it’s your turn. Have you read “The Alienist”? Yup? What do you think? No? Are you interested now? Will you read it? Do you have any other questions? Write down everything here in the comments. I thank you for reading, click like and share the review on social media if you liked it. And follow me, either on the blog, or on facebook, or on twitter, or all three. I leave you the links below.

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