Review: The Alienist by Caleb Carr

Title: The Alienist

Author: Caleb Carr

Genre: Mystery/Crime Thriller/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Random House

Publication Date: 1996

Length: 498 page

John Moore, a police reporter, is brought into an investigation of a recent string of murders. Someone is killing boy prostitutes in 1896 New York City and Dr. Laszlo Krizler, an alienist, is determined to use the science of psychology to stop him. Assembling a team that includes two detectives, Theodore Roosevelt’s female secretary, John Moore, and two of his former patients, Krizlern and company throw themselves into the investigation. Inciting the ire of policemen, mob bosses, and some highly placed officials, the team has their work cut out for them. When tragedy strikes, however, they discover that everything they’ve built may soon fall apart.


I highly enjoyed this book. I loved all the main characters, especially Laszlo. I liked this genius and certainty, but I also liked his fallibility and blindness in certain areas. I wanted to know more about him and get some idea of his inner life.

John Moore is the POV character and he’s a strong one. He is observant and clever, and aware of his own weaknesses. I like how he related to the other characters, especially Sara, the police secretary, and Joseph, a young prostitute he befriends.

This was, at time, a difficult book to read. It was very good at explaining why no one was helping the murdered boys or trying to help the boys trapped in the many brothels in New York. Still, the idea that children were going through such atrocities was hard to read about, especially the mutilations done to the victims. Occasionally, I had to gloss over some of the details.

I found the setting very vivid, if dark and gloomy. Carr’s New York of the 18902 is not one I’d be interested in visiting, although it made a fascinating story. I also liked the science behind the book and some of my favorite parts were when the characters were speculating and drawing conclusions about their murderer based on the evidence. Once the murderer was identified, the action became very suspenseful and I had a hard time putting the book down.

I thought this was a great book and worth of the hype it’s gotten. I look forward to not only reading the next in the series but also checking out the show.