[Audio Book] Dr. Laszlo Kreizler #1: The Alienist by Caleb Carr

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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First seen, then read

I was first attracted by the Netflix show before ever realizing that it was based on a book. With its amazing cast (Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning) and its synopsis, I was sure to like it. And I did. The second season might have been even better. When I then caught sight of the book in an open bookshelf, I impulsively took it home. This is certainly not my most-liked or even used-to genre, but reading and discussing it with my book club was a lot of fun!


Serial Killers vs Psychologist

This is only one installment with such a pattern, but I always enjoy the dynamics, the hunting game. We have an unknown perpetrator and a hero scientist of sorts, who tries to figure the other out to prevent future deeds. We get to know Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and his assistants (Sara, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson) through our involved narrator John Schuyler Moore. He is part of the investigating team, although he initially believes himself more of a silent observer and reporter. When they all eventually give and take and jointly put the picture together, it’s the most satisfying and entertaining reading experience. The book surely takes a good time to make us familiar with the characters, but it’s worth it. The author is a genius of character construction (and destruction of some sort).


Investigation in the 19th century

As mentioned before, I loved the investigative dynamics between the main characters. They all bring their own abilities and perspectives to the case and thus exchange opinions and gradually solve the mystery. The book rather describes their investigation than any real encounters with the murderer. Those investigations include travels and interviews, observations but also my very favorite forensic linguistics. Next to the thriller/crime main part of the book, there are character-driven dialogues and quite some emotions. Romance is never enforced but always a delightful possibility. We live through investigative highs and personal lows with the characters. Especially the second part increases the pacing immensely and thus draws us in.


Complex Characters

A mentioned before, Caleb Carr is a genius when it comes to creating and understanding characters. He sends his hero on a similar task, as Laszlo also tries to understand the reasons for the murderer’s deeds. The story is narrated by Moore, so we get to know some backstory on Laszlo only later. Nonetheless, we get to know him thoroughly through his action and the narrator’s observations. Laszlo is honestly a little bit too good, as he is attentive, sensitive, and even apologizes when being wrong. Like what? Where did these men go?

Moore is less nuanced, which makes sense for a non-self-centered narrator. We thereagainst dive deep into the mind of the serial killer with our investigators. They follow different traces and have to sometimes rethink their own conclusions. That is, while we also get a lot of backstories to side characters like Stevie, Cyprus, and of course Sara. Although there were a lot of characters that were simply men and more or less corrupt, Caleb Carr made the important ones stand out.


In conclusion

A thrilling masterpiece of a psychological thriller that takes us deep down into the psyche and trauma of a serial killer. Caleb Carr nonetheless does not only know how to create the antagonist, but also complexly establishes our team of investigators and their relations. It is a literary pleasure to follow their dynamic team work as they solve the mystery.



The distributors:

More on author Caleb Carr
More about the narrator George Guidall

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