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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In 1896, crime reporter, John Schulyer Moore is beckoned to a murder scene in the lower east side of Manhattan.
At the scene are his friends, Laslo Kreizler and Theodore Roosevelt the newly appointed police commissioner. They observe the body of an adolescent boy, dressed in women's clothing, murdered and disfigured. Roosevelt tells them that this is the third such case. The other's weren't publicized because they were poor and no one cared.
In the city with rampant corruption and police taking bribes, Roosevelt wants his private task force to solve this case. On the team are Laslo and Moore, Moore's friend, Sara Howard, anindependent woman who worked as secretary in the police department. Also on the team were two honest and intelligent police officers Marcus and Lucius Isaacson.
The reader delights in the descriptions of New York around the end of the last century. The characters eat at Delmonico's Restaurant where they might run into Diamond Jim Brady or Lillian Russell. They pass the Brooklyn Bridge, Wanamaker's Department Store and Grace Church.
This police procedural is skillfully written with a huge cast of characters, many taken from the pages of history. The author also informs us of the new police methods of finger prints and criminal profiling.
The author is from the same area as where the story unfolds and his research and vision are evident.
I enjoyed the story and felt as I was reading it that I was transported to Walter Cronkite's '70s TV show, You Are There.