April 23, 2021

Book Beat: The Alienist by Caleb Carr

With the glow of Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts” still shining, I became interested in a novel called “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr, a murder mystery with Teddy Roosevelt as one of the police commissioners in New York City. Published in 1994, Carr combined his historical research with the genre of crime fiction set in 1896.

Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a psychiatric doctor and Joe Moore, a crime reporter for the New York Times pursue a serial killer who is murdering young boys in gruesome ways. Kreizler is an alienist, someone who uses fingerprinting and psychology to narrow searches for criminals, almost the equivalent of our present day “FBI profiler.” The fictional characters such as Sara Howard, the first woman hired by the police department and the police detective brothers Marcus and Lucius Isaacson are interspersed with real life people such as J. P. Morgan, the famous banker, Anthony Comstock, a U. S. Postal Inspector and Roosevelt.

The writing is taut with a plot that engages the reader. Scenes set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan before the turn of last century will delight history buffs; lovers of detective novels will enjoy the early use of scientific clue analysis.

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