“Caleb Carr’s rich period thriller takes us back to the moment in history when the modern idea of the serial killer became available to us.”—The Detroit News
When The Alienist was first published in 1994, it was a major phenomenon, spending six months on the New York Times bestseller list, receiving critical acclaim, and selling millions of copies. This modern classic continues to be a touchstone of historical suspense fiction for readers everywhere.
The year is 1896. The city is New York. Newspaper reporter John Schuyler Moore is summoned by his friend Dr. Laszlo Kreizler—a psychologist, or “alienist”—to view the horribly mutilated body of an adolescent boy abandoned on the unfinished Williamsburg Bridge. From there the two embark on a revolutionary effort in criminology: creating a psychological profile of the perpetrator based on the details of his crimes. Their dangerous quest takes them into the tortured past and twisted mind of a murderer who will kill again before their hunt is over.
Fast-paced and riveting, infused with historical detail, The Alienist conjures up Gilded Age New York, with its tenements and mansions, corrupt cops and flamboyant gangsters, shining opera houses and seamy gin mills. It is an age in which questioning society’s belief that all killers are born, not made, could have unexpected and fatal consequences.
Praise for The Alienist
“[A] delicious premise . . . Its settings and characterizations are much more sophisticated than the run-of-the-mill thrillers that line the shelves in bookstores.”—The Washington Post Book World
“Mesmerizing.”—Detroit Free Press
“The method of the hunt and the disparate team of hunters lift the tale beyond the level of a good thriller—way beyond. . . . A remarkable combination of historical novel and psychological thriller.”—The Buffalo News
“Gripping, atmospheric . . . intelligent and entertaining.”—USA Today
“A high-spirited, charged-up and unfailingly smart thriller.”—Los Angeles Times
“Keeps readers turning pages well past their bedtime.”—San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:August 2, 1955
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:Attended Kenyon College, 1973-75; B.A. in history, New York University, 1977
Read an Excerpt
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 amphibian’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!
Table of Contents
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