**spoiler alert** By an odd little coincidence, I learned of this book and of the location of its climactic confrontation scene independently of each...more**spoiler alert** By an odd little coincidence, I learned of this book and of the location of its climactic confrontation scene independently of each other on the same recent weekend in New York. The friend with whom I was traveling wanted to see the original building of the Public Library (now the Humanities and Social Science Research Library), and by luck we happened to arrive just before a tour began; on that tour I first heard of the Croton Reservoir, which previously occupied the site of the library building and whose stones now form part of the foundation. A little later, on the subway I was marveling at a rider's ability to read while standing and clinging to a pole, and noticed the title of her book: "'Alienist'?" I thought, "Isn't that the old word for psychologist?" - a fact I happened to know from reading a lot of Lovecraft - "I wonder what that's about?" Then the following week, rummaging through the extensive shelves, bags and piles of old paperbacks at my mother's house, I found a copy. Aha! My curiosity need not go unsatisfied.
I'd probably give this three and a half stars if that were possible. I enjoyed reading it a great deal, but there were a few rough spots in the plotting, and Carr's efforts to make the reader feel like an "insider" in fin-de-siècle New York by having the first-person narrator notice details around him that no actual city native would have thought worth mentioning gets a little forced. Also forced is the attempt to shoehorn Theodore Roosevelt into the story. That he would be involved to some extent is plausible enough, but when we get to the one-by-one catalogue of the Roosevelt children in their home, one feels just a bit embarrassed by the heavy hand with which it is done.
The narrative is a fun read, certainly. Theodore Roosevelt, the young, crusading President of the Police Commission, and Laszlo Kreizler, the titular alienist, call in the narrator, John Moore, a reporter for the New York Times, to help them plan a way to try and solve the especially bizarre and gruesome murder of a boy prostitute. Together their various skills and experiences, along with a few other police assigned to this special duty, bring them together as a team, as they realize that the murder is almost certainly one of a series, and that the murderer is probably acting from psychological deformities formed in childhood - a new and widely distrusted theory at the time.
The theorizing, plodding footwork, frustration, and occasional bursts of two-fisted action as they comb the city and, eventually, the country for the killer's identity, and try to learn or guess where he is and when and where he might strike again, are engaging and entertainingly told. The team occasionally falls on their collective face as they learn the hard way that some of the ideas of the time, like the notion that the retina retains the image of the last thing a dying person saw, are poppycock. But in the end Kreizler's theories prove to be a solid foundation for the pursuit, leading to the previously mentioned confrontation on the walls of the reservoir.
On the whole, the pleasure far outweighed the deficiencies. This is a great choice for anyone who enjoys a good thriller.(less)
A brilliant novelist is found hanged from a lighthouse on an exclusive resort island off the Cornish coast. Is it suicide or murder? Well, this is an...moreA brilliant novelist is found hanged from a lighthouse on an exclusive resort island off the Cornish coast. Is it suicide or murder? Well, this is an Adam Dalgliesh book, so that's not such a mystery. And actually I guessed the murderer's identity pretty early, unusual for me reading James. But still and all this is good example of her work.
It has all her typical accoutrements: Several suspects with strong and sympathetic motives, well established before any violence occurs; AD and his team resorting to numerous psychological techniques to draw out information they need; and glimpses into the detectives' own mental shadows. It's maybe a bit formulaic, and not the best of her novels I've read, but it was solidly enjoyable nonetheless.(less)
It's never been clear to me if this is meant as a utopia, or a "dystopia", or whether maybe that question is the point. After reading /Island/ it's pr...moreIt's never been clear to me if this is meant as a utopia, or a "dystopia", or whether maybe that question is the point. After reading /Island/ it's pretty clear the author himself would not have wanted to live in this world.(less)
This seems to have been the seminal work of sociobiology. Though written for a mass readership rather than for specialists, Morris lays down a very co...moreThis seems to have been the seminal work of sociobiology. Though written for a mass readership rather than for specialists, Morris lays down a very convincing case - now, 40 years on, obviously wrong in many details, but essentially strong - that human behavior is bounded by biological tendencies to a much greater extent and in many more ways than previously accepted.(less)
By an odd coincidence, this was the first book recommended to me in meatspace, lo these several years ago, by the same friend who introduced me to Goo...moreBy an odd coincidence, this was the first book recommended to me in meatspace, lo these several years ago, by the same friend who introduced me to Goodreads. I am less bothered by its narrative and philosophical conflicts with Baum's canon than some, apparently...(less)
Better than Over Sea Under Stone. The stakes in the ongoing story get upped quite a bit, the characters and the situations get more intense, and the...moreBetter than Over Sea Under Stone. The stakes in the ongoing story get upped quite a bit, the characters and the situations get more intense, and the storytelling gets more assured. If this trend continues through the sequence, the later books should be some of the best ever written.(less)