1/2/11 — RieView: The Alienist — 5 Stars

I’ll be doing a lot of RieViews for awhile, as I have a lot to opine about. 😉

The Alienist by Caleb Carr has been out for a few years, but I just had a chance to read it. I am extremely glad I did. This is a very powerful book which offers a fascinating look at the budding concept of profiling in the 1890’s and paints a vivid picture of turn-of-the-century New York.

Set in 1896, the story is told from the viewpoint of journalist John Moore, who is chosen by Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt to assist “alienist” Lazlo Kreizler — practitioner of the burgeoning science of psychology — in tracking down a serial killer. With the aid of a pair of unconventional police detectives, and a woman who desires to be on the police force instead of a secretary for the department, they set about creating a portrait of the killer from the clues he leaves behind. Not everyone believes that the hunt is a good idea, and our detectives are in danger at every turn from forces both within and without the department they are unofficially aiding.

The most intriguing aspect of the book is the glimpse it gives us into a past where fingerprints were a newly discovered identification method, and not considered hard evidence, where profiling was not a standard way to limit a suspect pool, where a serial killer was an almost unheard of criminal force. The characters are vivid and well-drawn. The pace pulls you forward picking up speed as you go until you are racing along with the team toward the inevitable confrontation. This is a book that is well worth reading. I recommend it to all mystery lovers, and anyone else who is interested in historical fiction. Brilliantly written.