The Alienist

  • by Caleb Carr
  • Narrated by George Guidall
  • 20 hrs and 3 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

"We have to go . . . I'll explain later"

Some previous reviews refer to The Alienist as an historical “Criminal Minds” or “CSI”. I agree, but perhaps for a different reason. It struck me as a TV script in the spirit of those shows, just placed in a different time period. In spite of trying to make the dialogue sound dated, the overall sensibilities were too modern, with stock characters now mandatory in episode TV – the plucky feminist ahead of her time, the faithful manservant wise beyond his station, the precocious kid who proves he can hold his own with the grown-ups in times of danger. Social issues such as race, roles and rights of women and children, and homosexuality are handled with a level of tolerance more reflective of today than over 100 years ago. I also question the availability of forensic knowledge and profiling that would make a modern BAU agent proud.

In good historical fiction the history needs to weave seamlessly through the narrative, and not every fact found in the research process needs to be used. Side notes about everything from opera to fashion, to every course in every meal, and the furnishings and history of every building slows down a narrative that should have moved at a more urgent pace. Long passages on various theories of psychology and criminology (was that even a word in 1896?) slowed us even more – over an hour was spent dissecting each line, word, and penmanship of a letter from the killer, covering many points repetitively. Contrived miscommunications and false assumptions abound. The investigators could be unbelievably astute one minute, then oblivious to clues that had been scattered like Easter eggs in the grass, until the “ah-hah” moment when someone looks up and says “we’ve got to go NOW - no time to explain”. Obviously meant to heighten the tension, it was used so often by all team members that it became frustrating and led inevitably to another detailed review of information we had already covered – we got it already. There were many other "give-me-a-break" moments, but in the spirit of no-spoilers, I'll refrain from further comment.

I wish an editor had taken the book in hand to work out these structural problems, because Carr’s plot and concept (basically a reworking of Holmes-Watson-Lestrade chase The Ripper) is well imagined. Had he trusted his readers, Carr might have eliminated the massive redundancy that only added weight, not depth.
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- Janice "Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories."

Outstanding on several levels.

No fluff here! The listener gets real depth in plot, history of the times, application of method of finding out why people do what they do and interesting characters. PLUS, one of the best narrators around today, George Guidall. He is terrific! A born storyteller. He blends so well into the book that you forget he is there. He is part of the story.
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- lyl

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-06-2012
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio