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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

[ NOVEL ] 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, couldhave unexpected and mortal consequences.

Source: Barnes & Noble

Looking for a good historical crime novel? I highly recommend to you Caleb Carr's The Alienist. This book isn't just set in the past, but it has actual historical references (streets, establishments, etc.) and figures (Roosevelt, etc.). It had criminal investigations, but it's not limited to observing corpses, rather they also make use of advanced science (it's something new during those times, like fingerprint scanning) and psychology/psychiatry (by criminal profiling; understand the criminal's background and personality to figure out where he is now; that's something new before as well).

I believe what made this novel so awesome are the themes and issues that it tackles. First, there's the idea of what is sane and insane. As well as the nature of evil. Also modernization, like new investigation methods. Discrimination is also tackled here: sexual and social status (rich & poor). There are mature themes too, like extreme violence (from the murders, how gruesome) and sexual ones because of the prostitue victims (no actual sex/f*cking, fortunately). Other issues involved here too include politics, religion, and so forth. I really love it when a novel talks about the filths and hypocrites in society, like bastardly cops, selfish religious leaders, etc. It's very rich in themes that I'm afraid I don't think I can mention all of them!

The characters in this novel are fantastic! The novel's narrated in first person, by John Moore the Times journalist. Having it narrated by a journalist enables us to read a well written narrative, and with his knowledge with what's going on and his close relations to many of the characters makes it easy for us to understand the others better too. All characters are geniuses in their own ways for they aren't limited to police work because they have different specialties/professions (from psychology to medical/forensic and more). Some side characters are also great. There are servants with criminal records but they also get to do some action and are actually useful. Some characters are annoying from beginning to end; while some annoying ones turned out to be pretty cool later. Most of the characters, if not all, have been really interesting.

It's hard not to love some of the characters, because they are so colorful! Haha! Especially the main cast, because they're not flat nor totally boring. There are times where they do badass and amusing things too. I believe that I've also become attached to the characters because tragic deaths of several of them made me sad so much.The author had been cruel and amazing at the same time for doing such tragedies!

If there's something that I must mention that I didn't appreciate much in this novel, it will be the beginning and the ending. I don't like the beginning because . . .I totally can't connect it with the rest of the story. As for the ending . . . it made me go "That's it?!". But if I ignore those parts, almost everything in the novel had been so excellent. It was a page-turner! It had been difficult for me to let it down. That's why I had fnished it earlier than I plan to. Hehe.

I'm a lover of different genres and themes. The more genres a story has mixed in it, the more I love it. This novel has mystery, horror, tragedy, and a little of comedy and action. It involves issues concerning psychology, psychiatry, sociology, religion, politics, homosexuality, discrimination, etc. The Alienist had all these things mixed magnificently, so of course there's no surprise that I've loved the novel so much.

I don't know if I could consider this as the best thriller of all times (I usually read thrillers but I haven't read that many) but I'm definitely counting this as one of my top favorites!


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