With the gift of hindsight, I have to say that it's odd I ever picked up this book. I've never been much for crime dramas that sit on the New York Times bestseller lists as The Alienist did for several months, but I occasionally allow myself a bit of mainstream drivel. And truly, The Alienist is more like a work co-authored by Carl Jung and some gritty fringe writer such as Jim Thompson than just another Dean Koontz atrocity.
Before I read the novel, I was under the impression that it was some sort of historical crime noir album from the Thompson period of pulp (1950-70s). The guy who first mentioned it to me, Bill, was a rather twisted social deviant (I deliver that term with high respect), who had movie posters of the first several Faces of Death films in his living room (in plain view of his two year old daughter) and was later arrested for threatening to kill his girlfriend. But Bill had nothing but good things to say about Caleb Carr's The Alienist, and his recommendation was later reaffirmed by my good and slightly more sane friend, Brady. So when I saw the book in the checkout line while shopping I figured "What the Satan."
Though, I never became as big of a fan of The Alienist as Bill or Brady, I do recommend the novel. It's definitely an entertaining and occasionally spooky plot, and Caleb Carr's well researched and detailed descriptions of turn of the century New York are fascinating. Occasionally he throws in a real life character (a pre-presidential Teddy Roosevelt figures prominently, and Clarence Darrow plays a key role in The Alienist's sequel, The Angel of Darkness.) The story itself details the dogged pursuit of a roaming serial killer led by disenfranchised "Alienist" (a technical term for a devotee of a particular school of psychology that I never took the time to understand) Dr. Lazlo Kriezler and is filled with some interesting psychological detective work.
What disappointed me about the novel is how the characters seems too pure for their times, too moralistic for their age. I mean, let's be honest, most people in 1900's New York would be pretty sexist and pretty racist by our standards today. However, NONE of the main core of Kreizler's investigative team are anything but open-minded, non-judgmental "Celebrate Diversity" types who gladly accept a women and black man into their ranks. I hate to sound jaded (well, actually, I kind of enjoy it), but I remain dubious that not one of these characters would have some kind of bigotry. Besides those little character flaws make for good reading.
The ending itself didn't strike me as particularly surprising but these books are always more fun for the ride than the destination. All in all The Alienist carries itself as if Carr was hoping to keep open the possibility of turning the thing into an ABC mini-series (I hear it has been optioned as a film) and never went too far off the beaten path of "safe" crime dramas. However, for the vintage New York scenery alone it's worth a peruse.