The Alienist

The Alienist

4.3 312
by Caleb Carr

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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

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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.

        Fast-paced and gripping, infused with a historian's exactitude, The Alienist conjures up the Gilded Age and its untarnished underside: verminous tenements and opulent mansions, corrupt cops and flamboyant gangsters, shining opera houses and seamy gin mills. Here is a New York during an age when questioning society's belief that all killers are born, not made, could have unexpected and mortal consequences.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"You can smell the fear in the air." —The New York Times

"Gripping, atmospheric, intelligent, and entertaining." —USA Today

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in 1896, Carr's novel about a serial killer lose in New York City was a 25-week PW bestseller. (July)
Library Journal
A society-born police reporter and an enigmatic abnormal psychologist--the ``alienist'' of the title--are recruited in 1896 by New York's reform police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt to track down a serial killer who is slaughtering boy prostitutes. The investigators are opposed at every step by crime bosses and the city's hidden rulers (including J. Pierpont Morgan); they distrust the alienist's novel methods and would rather conceal evidence of the murders than court publicity. Tension builds as the detectives race to prevent more deaths. From this improbable brew, historian-novelist Carr ( The Devil Soldier , Random, 1991) has fashioned a knockout period mystery, infused with intelligence, vitality, and humor. This novel is a highly unorthodox variant of the Holmes-Watson theme and the best since Julian Symons's delightful A Three-Pipe Solution . It should entice new fans to the genre. Recommended. Literary Guild featured selection; Doubleday Book Club Selection; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/93.-- David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Alienist Series, #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.16(w) x 7.99(h) x 1.10(d)

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Chapter 1
CHAPTER 1 January 8th, 1919 Theodore is in the ground.  The words as I write them make as little sense as did the sight of his coffin descending into a patch of sandy soil near Sagamore Hill, the place he loved more than any other on earth. As I stood there this afternoon, in the cold January wind that blew off Long Island Sound, I thought to myself: Of course it’s a joke. Of course he’ll burst the lid open, blind us all with that ridiculous grin and split our ears with a high-pitched bark of laughter. Then he’ll exclaim that there’s work to do—“action to get!”—and we’ll all be martialed to the task of protecting some obscure species of newt from the ravages of a predatory industrial giant bent on planting a fetid factory on the little amphipian’s breeding ground. I was not alone in such fantasies; everyone at the funeral expected something of the kind, it was plain on their faces. All reports indicate that most of the country and much of the world feel the same way. The notion of Theodore Roosevelt being gone is that—unacceptable. In truth, he’d been fading for longer than anyone wanted to admit, really since his son Quentin was killed in the last days of the Great Butchery. Cecil Spring-Rice once droned, in his best British blend of affection and needling, that Roosevelt was throughout his life “about six”; and Herm Hagedorn noted that after Quentin was shot out of the sky in the summer of 1918 “the boy in Theodore died.” I dined with Laszlo Kreizler at Delmonico’s tonight, and mentioned Hagedorn’s comment to him. For the remaining two courses of my meal I was treated to a long, typically passionate explanation of why Quentin’s death was more than simply heartbreaking for Theodore: he had felt profound guilt, too, guilt at having so instilled his philosophy of “the strenuous life” in all his children that they often placed themselves deliberately in harm’s way, knowing it would delight their beloved father. Grief was almost unbearable to Theodore, I’d always known that; whenever he had to come to grips with the death of someone close, it seemed he might not survive the struggle. But it wasn’t until tonight, while listening to Kreizler, that I understood the extent to which moral uncertainty was also intolerable to the twenty-sixth president, who sometimes seemed to think himself Justice personified. Kreizler . . . He didn’t want to attend the funeral, though Edith Roosevelt would have liked him to. She has always been truly partial to the man she calls “the enigma,” the brilliant doctor whose studies of the human mind have disturbed so many people so profoundly over the last forty years. Kreizler wrote Edith a note explaining that he did not much like the idea of a world without Theodore, and, being as he’s now sixty-four and has spent his life staring ugly realities full in the face, he thinks he’ll just indulge himself and ignore the fact of his friend’s passing. Edith told me today that reading Kreizler’s note moved her to tears, because she realized that Theodore’s boundless affection and enthusiasm—which revolted so many cynics and was, I’m obliged to say in the interests of journalistic integrity, sometimes difficult even for friends to tolerate—had been strong enough to touch a man whose remove from most of human society seemed to almost everyone else unbridgeable. Some of the boys from the Times wanted me to come to a memorial dinner tonight, but a quiet evening with Kreizler seemed much the more appropriate thing. It wasn’t out of nostalgia for any shared boyhood in New York that we raised our glasses, because Laszlo and Theodore didn’t actually meet until Harvard. No, Kreizler and I were fixing our hearts on the spring of 1896—nearly a quarter-century ago!—and on a series of events that still seems too bizarre to have occurred even in this city. By the end of our dessert and Madeira (and how poignant to have a memorial meal in Delmonico’s, good old Del’s, now on its way out like the rest of us, but in those days the bustling scene of some of our most important encounters), the two of us were laughing and shaking our heads, amazed to this day that we were able to get through the ordeal with our skins; and still saddened, as I could see in Kreizler’s face and feel in my own chest, by the thought of those who didn’t. There’s no simple way to describe it. I could say that in retrospect it seems that all three of our lives, and those of many others, led inevitably and fatefully to that one experience; but then I’d be broaching the subject of psychological determinism and questioning man’s free will—reopening, in other words, the philosophical conundrum that wove irrepressibly in and out of the nightmarish proceedings, like the only hummable tune in a difficult opera. Or I could say that, during the course of those months, Roosevelt, Kreizler, and I, assisted by some of the best people I’ve ever known, set out on the trail of a murderous monster and ended up coming face-to-face with a frightened child; but that would be deliberately vague, too full of the “ambiguity” that seems to fascinate current novelists and which has kept me, lately, out of the bookstores and in the picture houses. No, there’s only one way to do it, and that’s to tell the whole thing, going back to that first grisly night and that first butchered body; back even further, in fact, to our days with Professor James at Harvard. Yes, to dredge it all up and put it finally before the public—that’s the way. The public may not like it; in fact, it’s been concern about public reaction that’s forced us to keep our secret for so many years. Even the majority of Theodore’s obituaries made no reference to the event. In listing his achievements as president of the Board of Commissioners of New York City’s Police Department from 1895 to 1897, only the Herald—which goes virtually unread these days—tacked on uncomfortably, “and of course, the solution to the ghastly murders of 1896, which so appalled the city.” Yet Theodore never claimed credit for that solution. True, he had been open-minded enough, despite his own qualms, to put the investigation in the hands of a man who could solve the puzzle. But privately he always acknowledged that man to be Kreizler. He could scarcely have done so publicly. Theodore knew that the American people were not ready to believe him, or even to hear the details of the assertion. I wonder if they are now. Kreizler doubts it. I told him I intended to write the story, and he gave me one of his sardonic chuckles and said that it would only frighten and repel people, nothing more. The country, he declared tonight, really hasn’t changed much since 1896, for all the work of people like Theodore, and Jake Riis and Lincoln Steffens, and the many other men and women of their ilk. We’re all still running, according to Kreizler—in our private moments we Americans are running just as fast and fearfully as we were then, running away from the darkness we know to lie behind so many apparently tranquil household doors, away from the nightmares that continue to be injected into children’s skulls by people whom Nature tells them they should love and trust, running ever faster and in ever greater numbers toward those potions, powders, priests, and philosophies that promise to obliterate such fears and nightmares, and ask in return only slavish devotion. Can he truly be right . . .? But I wax ambiguous. To the beginning, then! CHAPTER 2  An ungodly pummeling on the door of my grandmother’s house at 19 Washington Square North brought first the maid and then my grandmother herself to the doorways of their bedrooms at two  o’clock on the morning of March 3, 1896. I lay in bed in that no-longer-drunk yet not-quite-sober state which is usually softened by sleep, knowing that whoever was at the door probably had business with me rather than my grandmother. I burrowed into my linen-cased pillows, hoping that he’d just give up and go away. “Mrs. Moore!” I heard the maid call. “It’s a fearful racket—shall I answer it, then?” “You shall not,” my grandmother replied, in her well-clipped, stern voice. “Wake my grandson, Harriet. Doubtless he’s forgotten a gambling debt!” I then heard footsteps heading toward my room and decided I’d better get ready. Since the demise of my engagement to Miss Julia Pratt of Washington some two years earlier, I’d been staying with my grandmother, and during that time the old girl had become steadily more skeptical about the ways in which I spent my off-hours. I had repeatedly explained that, as a police reporter for The New York Times, I was required to visit many of the city’s seamier districts and houses and consort with some less than savory characters; but she remembered my youth too well to accept that admittedly strained story. My homecoming deportment on the average evening generally reinforced her suspicion that it was state of mind, not professional obligation, that drew me to the dance halls and gaming tables of the Tenderloin every night; and I realized, having caught the gambling remark just made to Harriet, that it was now crucial to project the image of a sober man with serious concerns. I shot into a black Chinese robe, forced my short hair down on my head, and opened the door loftily just as Harriet reached it. “Ah, Harriet,” I said calmly, one hand inside the robe. “No need for alarm. I was just reviewing some notes for a story, and found I needed some materials from the office. Doubtless that’s the boy with them now.” “John!” my grandmother blared as Harriet nodded in confusion. “Is that you?” “No, Grandmother,” I said, trotting down the thick Persian carpet on the stairs. “It’s Dr. Holmes.” Dr. H. H. Holmes was an unspeakably sadistic murderer and confidence man who was at that moment waiting to be hanged in Philadelphia. The possibility that he might escape before his appointment with the executioner and then journey to New York to do my grandmother in was, for some inexplicable reason, her greatest nightmare. I arrived at the door of her room and gave her a kiss on the cheek, which she accepted without a smile, though it pleased her. “Don’t be insolent, John. It’s your least attractive quality. And don’t think your handsome charms will make me any less irritated.” The pounding on the door started again, followed by a boy’s voice calling my name. My grandmother’s frown deepened. “Who in blazes is that and what in blazes does he want?” “I believe it’s a boy from the office,” I said, maintaining the lie but myself perturbed about the identity of the young man who was taking the front door to such stern task. “The office?” my grandmother said, not believing a word of it. “All right, then, answer it.” I went quickly but cautiously to the bottom of the staircase, where I realized that in fact I knew the voice that was calling for me but couldn’t identify it precisely. Nor was I reassured by the fact that it was a young voice—some of the most vicious thieves and killers I’d encountered in the New York of 1896 were mere striplings. “Mr. Moore!” The young man pleaded again, adding a few healthy kicks to his knocks. “I must talk to Mr. John Schuyler Moore!” I stood on the black and white marble floor of the vestibule. “Who’s there?” I said, one hand on the lock of the door. “It’s me, sir! Stevie, sir!” I breathed a slight sigh of relief and unlocked the heavy wooden portal. Outside, standing in the dim light of an overhead gas lamp—the only one in the house that my grandmother had refused to have replaced with an electric bulb—was Stevie Taggert, “the Stevepipe,” as he was known. In his first eleven years Stevie had risen to become the bane of fifteen police precincts; but he’d then been reformed by, and was now a driver and general errand boy for, the eminent physician and alienist, my good friend Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. Stevie leaned against one of the white columns outside the door and tried to catch his breath—something had clearly terrified the lad. “Stevie!” I said, seeing that his long sheet of straight brown hair was matted with sweat. “What’s happened?” Looking beyond him I saw Kreizler’s small Canadian calash. The cover of the black carriage was folded down, and the rig was drawn by a matching gelding called Frederick. The animal was, like Stevie, bathed in sweat, which steamed in the early March air. “Is Dr. Kreizler with you?” “The doctor says you’re to come with me!” Stevie answered in a rush, his breath back. “Right away!” “But where? It’s two in the morning—” “Right away!” He was obviously in no condition to explain, so I told him to wait while I put on some clothes. As I did so, my grandmother shouted through my bedroom door that whatever “that peculiar Dr. Kreizler” and I were up to at two in the morning she was sure it was not respectable. Ignoring her as best I could, I got back outside, pulling my tweed coat close as I jumped into the carriage. I didn’t even have time to sit before Stevie lashed at Frederick with a long whip. Falling back into the dark maroon leather of the seat, I thought to upbraid the boy, but again the look of fear in his face struck me. I braced myself as the carriage careened at a somewhat alarming pace over the cobblestones of Washington Square. The shaking and jostling eased only marginally as we turned onto the long, wide slabs of Russ pavement on Broadway. We were heading downtown, downtown and east, into that quarter of Manhattan where Laszlo Kreizler plied his trade and where life became, the further one progressed into the area, ever cheaper and more sordid: the Lower East Side.

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The Alienist 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 312 reviews.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
Wow. What a read. I don't think I've gone through 600 pages faster than I did with "Alienst" over the past week. The story is exciting. The writing is vivid. And the characters are interesting. Think of this as CSI - New York - 1896. The story: a turn of the century psychologist, a crime reporter, Theodore Roosevelt, and a few other detectives and support staff search for a serial killer who's horribly butchering children in New York City. There are virtually no lulls in the story, as author Carr drops clue after clue, and slowly builds up an empirical profile of the mysterious killer. There are no obvious points to put the book down and take a breather, as I continuously found myself staying up later and later following each new lead and discovery. The book is a bit gory. There's nothing held back in the details of bloody murders, and reflections on stories of abuse. If you're able to accept this level of realism, then I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book.
AliceB52 More than 1 year ago
I am typically a very slow reader, but when I get something really great, I go through it too fast. This is one of those books. The characters are compelling, but the plot and setting are so unusual. The historical details are so interesting. It is hand over fist one of the most intelligent thrillers I have ever read. I generally love historical thrillers anyway, but this one is top notch. If you are a fan of the genre and haven't yet read it then this must go to the top of your list!
Dr_Dean More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book! There is a little bit of everything in this novel--part murder mystery, part psychological thriller, with a generous dose of historical accuracy thrown in. The reader is thrown into New York City at the turn of the 20th century, where the field of psychology is fighting to emerge into legitimacy. A rag-tag team is formed to stop a serial killer brutally murdering child prostitutes using rudimentary criminological science. It's fusion with real characters of the time (Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan) with an electrifying story made it impossible to put down. I can't wait to read the sequel!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter recently caused me to remember how much I had enjoyed this book years before.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my first online book review. I am a pathological reader with high standards for plot accuracy and complexity/writing quality and character development. Although i have read thousands of books in my time THIS is one of the top five I have ever curled up with and enjoyed. Plunk down your VISA card number and beprepared to enter a steamy funky immigrant world in old NY where the men are brilliant, the girls are brave and tough and the murders are spooky and scary not to mention the politicians who never seem to change. Buy it read it and keepit to reread over again.
Tennesseedog More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. The story is intriguing and the writing style engaging and fun. The time is 1896 and the place is New York City. Police commissioner is Teddy Roosevelt, the future President of the US. And the search is on for a serial killer of children, mainly young boys involved in the sex trade. The story is fictional but uses real scientific premises and psychological/forensic theories to contextualize the story of the young investigators, including the first New York City Police female secretary. She is also a good shot with a revolver and an early feminist advocate. The murderer is a fiendish, very damaged individual and how the investigators search out clues, tease out his psychology and finally set their trap makes this novel a great read.
manugw More than 1 year ago
Set at the end of the 19th century in New York and with a dark, gloomy Edgar Allan Poe savor, this original novel approaches the crime genre from another angle, profiling, that is, getting into the mind of a serial murderer, step by step through forensic deductive sciences and psychological insights arising from the knowledge and technology available at that time. The plot featured as a blend of historical fiction and psychological thriller, it is well constructed, but it goes at a very slow pace sometimes with very tedious pitfallings. Though in general has a fair resolution, the events that give way to the definition suddenly speed up too much in relation to the very long slow prior structure of the plot, subtly tarnishing the quality of the story overall. Deep and complex requires concentration and patience
CalypsoBella More than 1 year ago
I've read this book twice now. The depiction of turn of the century New York is richly envisioned. Teddy Roosevelt is fascinating. The characters are fully developed people you can care about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Everyone I've recomended this to has loved it as well. A great mix of history, mystery and suspense.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellently written. Best book Ive read recently.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing. Attention to detail, timeline characteristics, and a rag tag group to pull it together. This book will catch you in the first twenty pages (first 10 for me).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marvelous account of the "birth" of forensic psychology in crime solving. Dark, disturbing, and full of intriguing historic detail, plus a team of oddly assorted investigators wjo rival anything currently on television. A fantastic read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic turn of the century historical fiction.
Delphimo 3 months ago
The first chapters of this novel nearly ended further reading of this impressive novel. The story presents the new techniques used to track and locate serial killers. Laszlo Kreizler is a doctor of the mind in New York in 1896, and many people are not open to these new methods. The story involves many historic figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and J P Morgan. The conditions in the slums of New York are terrible. John Moore, the narrator, works for the New York Times, but has joined Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and other people in their quest to find the killer of young male prostitutes. Two Jewish brothers, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson, utilize fingerprinting and other methods of finding the killer. A lone woman, Theodore Roosevelt's secretary, Sara Howard, attempts to prove that women can work in the police department. The book starts slowly and like the locomotives in the story, begins to pick up speed and dash to the station.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this for my nook collection. I read the book when it first came out and I still have the book. It is intriguing and frightening and historical all rolled into one intense read.
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killedbydolls More than 1 year ago
loved the holmes vibe to this book
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Sean_From_OHIO More than 1 year ago
Caleb Carr weaves an interesting tale in and out of history. While the crimes are gruesome, the methods of solving those crimes is fascinating to see in their infancy. While at times I felt Carr was unnecessarily wordy, his prose was very good. The characters were complex and even the writing style somewhat unusual, in a good way. I'm looking forward to checking out more by Carr.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Found it captivating.