rachel's Reviews > The Alienist

The Alienist by Caleb Carr
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Jan 12, 2010

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bookshelves: 2010, own, criminals-or-tremendous-creepers
Recommended to rachel by: multiple people
Read in January, 2010

The perfect way to describe this book is lacking restraint.

In some respects, that's a good thing: tons of rich historical detail, no aspect of the crime left un-analyzed, very vivid and sometimes frightening imagery. I have to admit that this book made me nervous to be outside alone after 11:00 PM, in the way that murder in the time of gaslights, carriages, and unlit slum alleyways tends to do.

But the book's lack of restraint is also its weakness. Some of the historical detail is completely unnecessary and causes the suspense Carr has masterfully built up to fizzle out. Some of the imagery is so grotesque it's laughable; I read a review comparing the gratuitous nature of the murder scenes to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I have to agree, although this is a much better book. And the analysis -- even to someone fascinated with criminal profiling -- tended to drag on at a certain point. That point being when the main characters repeated theories they'd already come up with and accepted, which the reader is already aware of.

Another criticism I had of the book is that its pacing was very weird. Nearly the same amount of space -- if not more -- is given to the attempts to obstruct the investigation, which, while interesting and worth mention, is not nearly as interesting as the man who is going around dissecting child prostitutes.

Oh, and someone should tell Caleb Carr that people don't need to get shot or bludgeoned at regular intervals in order for a book to be exciting.

I know it sounds like I didn't like the book, but I did! I just couldn't stop reading this thing. Even the epic descriptions of late 19th century New York had a gripping, cracky quality to them. It's been a while that a book has had such a magnetic effect on me, mystery or no. Also, whether knowingly or not, Carr successfully drops a few red herrings that caused me to suspect a major revelation at the end about the killer's identity. This twist never played out and made me feel stupid for subscribing to it so wholeheartedly, but it seemed plausible until approximately the last 100 pages.

I realize objectively that this book has many problems. (The hilarious characterization of Teddy Roosevelt I am not counting among them, though some people would.) Even so, I can't say I didn't have a good time reading it for the most part.
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Reading Progress

01/12/2010 page 45
9.04% "I can't put this down."
01/14/2010 page 200
40.16% "Resenting that I have to go to work and can't just stay home reading this!"
01/15/2010 page 360
72.29% "So close to being done and I have to go to work, ugh. I just want to know if my suspicions are correct."
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Great review. I am reading this RIGHT NOW, and 1) I find most of it ridiculous 2) I can't fucking put it down. WHAT. Also, OMFG, the portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt is somewhere between hilarious and hagiographic. Perhaps both. And the inept way he glosses slang ("fly cops" ((officers in civilian clothing)) ) is SO GRATING. And it has this whole "The Victorian era was TOOOOOTALLY not uptight and dull!" schtick.

And yet here I am reading it. Gahh.


rachel Between Roosevelt's blustering about and Carr's weird obsession with his teeth (I kept picturing those chattering mouth toys whenever Teddy was on the scene, and then cracking up), I'm going to go with "both" too.

But yeah, the book definitely has that indefinable MUST KEEP READING quality to it. I can't explain why that is. It gets less entertaining towards the end (seemingly endless near death situations/gunfights), and I did eventually feel my interest wane a little. You'll have to let me know when you've finished so I can read what you thought.


message 3: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell rachel wrote: "(I kept picturing those chattering mouth toys whenever Teddy was on the scene, and then cracking up)"

AAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHA, oh great, now I'm never going to be able to get that out of my head. But SERIOUSLY, I have no idea why Carr has such a total hardon for Roosevelt.

But yeah, the book definitely has that indefinable MUST KEEP READING quality to it. I can't explain why that is.

OH GOD, does it ever. I have no idea why either. It's like the Girl Who books, except those at least have Lisbeth and this has the lady wannabe cop who makes me grit my teeth whenever I see her. And I LIKE lady cops.

You'll have to let me know when you've finished so I can read what you thought.

I'm guessing the horrible first-person narrator doesn't get killed....


rachel Do you have any good lady cop recommendations? I love them, but can't even remember that there was one in The Alienist and I only read it last year -- what an endorsement! I used to like Scarpetta a lot before Patricia Cornwell SOLVED JACK THE RIPPER (with her mind), started writing the books in the third person, and generally went insane.

I'm guessing the horrible first-person narrator doesn't get killed....

Sadly, you are correct. What if TEDDY ROOSEVELT was the murderer??!


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