This is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy into as many hands as I could.
Bit of an uncharacteristic choice for me, this one: not only is it a piece of crime fiction but it’s extraordinarily gruesome in places. It was the idea of an alienist brought into to apply newly developed psychological ideas and techniques to the case that fascinated me – a nineteenth-century Cracker, if you will.
Against a New York backdrop – that, of course, was the other draw – The Alienist follows the investigation of a set of murders on Manhattan’s Lower East Side thought to be the work of a serial killer. Dr Laszlo Kreizler and the team set about putting together a psychological profile of the murderer, investigating his victims in an attempt to understand what he has done to them and what motivated him, a revolutionary idea given the prevalent belief at the time that killers were born not made. The novel is peopled with historical figures, from Theodore Roosevelt who takes an active interest in the case to J. P. Morgan, and is replete with period detail reflecting Caleb Carr’s scholarly training. It’s a gripping atmospheric novel. I remember being absolutely riveted by it although I never did get around to reading Carr’s sequel, The Angel of Death.
What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?