The Mystery, Crime, and Thriller Group discussion

141 views
Historical Group Reads > Nov/Dec 2011 Group Read - The Alienist

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Donna, Co-Moderator (new)

Donna | 2178 comments Mod
The winner in the open category this month is The Alienist by Caleb Carr.

Jenny will be leading the discussion. Thank you Jenny!


message 2: by Jenny (new)

Jenny You're welcome!
I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into this gritty Guilded Age story! I hope many of you will be joining me.

I'll give everyone, myself included, a chance to do some reading before I post any points or questions for discussion.


message 3: by Jane (new)

Jane (flopsybunny) | 159 comments I love this book and read it when it first came out. I look forward to reading it again and joining in the discussion. :)


message 4: by Hayes, Co-Moderator (new)

Hayes (hayes13) | 2060 comments Mod
I have just recently read it for the second time, so I will join in with pleasure. (It's not often I get to join a group read... fun!)


message 5: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Donald (redonald) | 64 comments I hope I can find the time to reread it myself, although I've got several books on the go already. It's still in my bookcase, and I only keep books that I really like.


message 6: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 35561 comments I loved this when I read it years ago. This is the book that got me reading crime historical fiction.

Not sure if I will re-read it. Although it is on the kindle.


message 7: by Kim (new)

Kim (kimmr) This has been on my TBR shelf (and the actual shelf in my bedroom) since I joined GR a year ago. I haven't exactly been putting off reading it, it's just that other books have taken priority. So this group read is a good excuse to finally getting around to moving it off TBR and onto Currently-Reading!


message 8: by Laura (new)

Laura (apenandzen) | 30 comments I just started it yesterday and loving it already. It is gritty, for sure, but well-written. Thanks to Kim for steering me over here. :)


message 9: by Georgia (new)

Georgia | 536 comments I read this book maybe 6 or 8 years ago. It is truly a
great read. Takes place in NY. Enjoy. Interested in what comments you will make.


message 10: by Gatorman (new)

Gatorman | 7679 comments This was a great book, my favorite historical thriller/mystery. The sequel, The Angel of Darkness, was very good as well.


message 11: by Jill (new)

Jill shure | 12 comments Donna wrote: "The winner in the open category this month is The Alienist by Caleb Carr.

Jenny will be leading the discussion. Thank you Jenny!"


I read the Alienist years ago and loved it. You're in for a great treat. Please look into Zoo Station. It's one of the best books I've read in ages.Jill Shure


message 12: by Jenny (new)

Jenny I am several chapters into the story and feel the author has really set the scene well with his description of 1890s New York City: the neighborhoods, the social strata and issues, prominent figures, the Metropolitan Opera House, Delmonico's, etc.
I love Dr. Kreizler's motley assortment of employees, patients and collaborators.
To me, it seems like a backlash to the segmented, isolated and rigid world of Wharton's The Age of Innocence , or at least it presents a grittier, more colorful, and broader look at the city.
The Old New York seems to be in flux in The Alienist .

If you've started reading, what are you picking up about this? Who do you see as "reformers"/independent types? Who supports or is part of "the Establishment"/ the old system?


message 13: by Hayes, Co-Moderator (new)

Hayes (hayes13) | 2060 comments Mod
Jenny wrote: "I am several chapters into the story and feel the author has really set the scene well with his description of 1890s New York City: the neighborhoods, the social strata and issues, prominent figure..."

The time and place is one of my favorites. (I highly recommend Jack Finney's
Time and Again if you enjoy turn of the century New York and like time travel stories.)

I re-read this back in July, and enjoyed the story again. I appreciated the descriptions of the bars and brothels, even if aspects of the conditions of the "working children" were a little hard to deal with.


message 14: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Hayes wrote: "Jenny wrote: "I am several chapters into the story and feel the author has really set the scene well with his description of 1890s New York City: the neighborhoods, the social strata and issues, pr..."

Thanks! I will check out Time and Again ! I appreciate the recommendation! If you like British Victorian set stories with time travel, check out The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. A wild, fun and smart read.

I keep thinking The Alienist is going to take some strange, Steampunk turn, with werewolves or robot zombies (zombots?) emerging from the slums. I would really hate to see them rip up Delmonicos, though!

Happy Thanksgiving!


message 15: by Kim (new)

Kim (kimmr) This is a first time read for me (although the book was on my TBR list for a year) and I'm about half way through.

What I like so far is the scene setting. I've visited NYC a few times and I like reading about its history and picturing the locations the author refers to. What I'm less keen about is the impression that this is really a contemporary serial killer / psychological profiler story dressed up in 19th century clothes. The time setting allows for discussions of the latest psychological theories and criminal investigation techniques, but I still don't really get the "feel" of a 19th century story. Which is not to say that I don't find the book engaging, because mostly I do. It's just that in general terms I'm not that keen on serial killer / psychological profiler crime fiction. I feel it's been a bit overdone in recent years.


message 16: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 35561 comments Kim, it probably has been overdone now. But this book was published in 1994.

I suppose there were some serial killer/psych profiler crime fiction - all I can think of off the top of my head would be John Sanford that I was reading around the same time as I read this. But they hadn't hit the mother lode with it yet.

I read this in the mid '90s after it first came out in paperback and I really enjoyed it at the time.


message 17: by Kim (new)

Kim (kimmr) That's a fair point, Jan. Even as I was writing my comment above, I was trying to recall what crime fiction I was reading in the mid-1990s. The first serial killer / profiler style novel which I remember reading was Val McDermid's The Mermaids Singing, which was published in 1995. So the genre must have been taking off about then. And since then there've been all of those TV series with the same theme. Or at least, it feels like there are a lot of them. I don't watch them, so it may just be the one show over and over again!


message 18: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Kim wrote: "This is a first time read for me (although the book was on my TBR list for a year) and I'm about half way through.

What I like so far is the scene setting. I've visited NYC a few times and I like..."


For me, now that I'm halfway through with the story, the setting and locations sound authentic and "real" to 1896, but some of the characters seem out of place with the time. Specifically, a few characters speak and act speak very progressively or independently for the era. Modern woman as I am, I'm surprised at Sara's brashness, comfort with certain language and scenarios, and her ability to comment so keenly on psychology and the minds of the criminally violent.

I spent the last 10 years working in Manhattan, so I'm really enjoying hearing about businesses or landmarks from the Gilded Age that still or no longer exist in the City. I was watching "Miracle on 34th Street" the other day and McCreery's Department Store is also mentioned there. I don't recall coming across McCreery's when I lived in NY, so it must've gone out of business a while back.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to finally finding out who the killer is and how things will be resolved.


message 19: by Kim (new)

Kim (kimmr) Jenny wrote: " .... but some of the characters seem out of place with the time. Specifically, a few characters speak and act speak very progressively or independently for the era...."

I agree, Jenny. For their time, the main good-guy protagonists have remarkably progressive views on gender, race, class and sexual orientation. They strike me as rather more 1990s than 1890s in outlook.

However, I'm having a lot of fun with Wikipedia and Google maps checking on the people and places woven into the story. The geography and the history are the best part of the book for me.


message 20: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 35561 comments McCreery's is also referred to in "Life with Father" which I think also takes place in the Gilded Age.

Regarding Sarah, she was from the upper classes, wasn't she? So she very well could probably get away with being more eccentric than otherwise.


message 21: by Hayes, Co-Moderator (new)

Hayes (hayes13) | 2060 comments Mod
Jan C wrote: "I read this in the mid '90s after it first came out in paperback and I really enjoyed it at the time."

I read it when it first came out too, and remember liking it; I enjoyed it less the second time around. But whether that was because it was fresher material the first time, or that I was less demanding, or younger, or whatever, I don't know.

Jenny wrote: "...but some of the characters seem out of place with the time. Specifically, a few characters speak and act speak very progressively or independently for the era. Modern woman as I am, I'm surprised at Sara's brashness, comfort with certain language and scenarios, and her ability to comment so keenly on psychology and the minds of the criminally violent."

I agree Jenny. That didn't leap out at me the first time I read it, but the second time yes. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, but it was just out of sync with the time of the story.

Kim wrote: "The geography and the history are the best part of the book for me. "

This is really one of those stories where the location is almost a character. I could imagine very clearly the lower east side of Manhattan, and Greenwich Village, which until very recently had not changed very much from the turn of the century, although now it is completely different.


message 22: by Tom (new)

Tom Torkelson I started yesterday and am entertained, but I'll agree that a lot of the dialog and many of the situations are somewhat "out-of-time".


message 23: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Jan C wrote: "McCreery's is also referred to in "Life with Father" which I think also takes place in the Gilded Age.

Regarding Sarah, she was from the upper classes, wasn't she? So she very well could probably..."


Thanks Jan. I just added "Life with Father" to my Netflix instant play queue!


message 24: by Lauren (new)

Lauren This book was assigned reading for one of my college classes years ago. I loved it and went on to read the other book featuring Dr. Kreizler I believe It was called Angel of Darkness.


message 25: by Katherine (new)

Katherine (madlibn) | 22 comments I listened to the audiobook a few years ago. I agree that some of the dialog and situations seemed a little too modern, but I wasn't sure exactly what would be appropriate. I enjoyed the complexity of the plot - although it was a little hard to keep up with in audio. I also read the next book and was a little disappointed when there wasn't another book. I see that Carr has written a variety of other books.


message 26: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Katherine wrote: "I listened to the audiobook a few years ago. I agree that some of the dialog and situations seemed a little too modern, but I wasn't sure exactly what would be appropriate. I enjoyed the complexi..."

I happened to buy the audiobook at the library for a buck -- have been listening to it along with reading the actual book. Have to say I'm quite disappointed in the audio book's skipping over HUGE and multiple sections of text/storyline. I am sure it's a challenge to fit it all on tape, but still...I want the full enchilada!

Katherine, I see what you mean about the plot complexity. I feel like it gets a bit muddled with multi-layers of investigatory leads and theories, but like you I enjoyed it --for some reason Carr keeps me from getting too confused.
Maybe that's how an actual investigation actually goes, though? I wonder if Carr was trying to express that and how tough it would be for a lone group of honest investigators to get to the right information and people.


message 27: by J.A. (new)

J.A. Beard (jabeard) About half-way through. I also agree that the dialog, the situations, and some of the interactions are perhaps slightly a bit too modern, but given some of the transitions around these times, it's way more justified and less disruptive to verisimilitude to something similar in an earlier period.

Am I the only one that feels like 10-20% of the detail(particularly some of the historical) could have been cut to the improvement of the flow? I like the story and the plot, but there are some chapters early on that are like 80% historical backstory added almost as if Mr. Carr was worried that if he didn't spell everything out that the reader wouldn't understand the importance of something.

I love historical fiction, but there's a thin line sometimes between engaging in a historical lesson and passing along the necessary information to set the scene and atmosphere. Mr. Carr may be stepping over on occasion.

I mean thus far it's cruising along as a 4/5 for me, so don't get me wrong, I just wondered if it could have been a 4.5 or 5 for me, but it still very well may be, have a whole other half to read. :)


message 28: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 35561 comments That's one of the problems with historians writing fiction. Always afraid of leaving some minute detail out.


message 29: by Kim (new)

Kim (kimmr) Jan C wrote: "That's one of the problems with historians writing fiction. Always afraid of leaving some minute detail out."

I agree. The book made me think that I would probably enjoy a non-fiction book about NYC in the 1890s much more than fiction set in the period, because I liked the history a lot more than I liked the plot.


message 30: by T.M. (new)

T.M. M. Brenner (t_m_brenner) | 3 comments I read this a number of years ago, and it partly inspired me to write my own historical fiction novel. I thought it was very well written, the story was intriguing, and the character development was really well done. This was a 5/5 for me. I also loved the sequel.


message 31: by Julie (new)

Julie Hello Everyone! I'm new to this group but a big fan of mysteries. I read the Alienist in hardbound when it was first published. This gives you a clue about the depths of my reading addiction. I loved the book and it's sequel. For many years it was on my list of all time favorites because of how well Carr was able to bring the setting alive for me. I found the second book fascinating as well because of the horrifying portrayal of an interesting form of child abuse. I was sorry to see him abandon this group of characters. Julie B


message 32: by Jackleen (new)

Jackleen | 4 comments I read this book years ago and it sits on my favouite books of all time list. A really wonderful read.


message 33: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Julie wrote: "Hello Everyone! I'm new to this group but a big fan of mysteries. I read the Alienist in hardbound when it was first published. This gives you a clue about the depths of my reading addiction. I lo..."

Hi Julie! I'm kinda new, too! I'm considering reading the sequel now, because I loved how real and tangible the setting and time seemed.
Does the sequel have a similar feel to it? Did you enjoy the characters and did they change much from how they were in The Alienist?


message 34: by Carol/Bonadie (new)

Carol/Bonadie (bonadie) | 444 comments Julie wrote: "I was sorry to see him abandon this group of characters. Julie B ..."

Julie, I couldn't agree more. I was really looking forward to more in this series and was disappointed when his next book went in a different direction. I don't even think I read it..

@Jenny: It's been quite awhile since I read The Angel of Darkness, the sequel to The Alienist, but as I recall enough characters returned that the book had a similar feel, and I enjoyed it almost as much as I enjoyed The Alienist.


message 35: by Julie (new)

Julie I did read the next novel, I think a scifi. It was not memorable.


message 36: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Julie wrote: "I did read the next novel, I think a scifi. It was not memorable."

That's too bad, but good to be forewarned!


message 37: by Gatorman (new)

Gatorman | 7679 comments Jenny wrote: "Julie wrote: "Hello Everyone! I'm new to this group but a big fan of mysteries. I read the Alienist in hardbound when it was first published. This gives you a clue about the depths of my reading a..."

If you enjoyed The Alienist you should enjoy The Angel of Darkness.


message 38: by Tom (new)

Tom Torkelson Tom wrote: "I started yesterday and am entertained, but I'll agree that a lot of the dialog and many of the situations are somewhat "out-of-time"."

I guess I haven't followed up on this one yet. I pushed myself and finished reading the book; that's about the best afadavit I can give. It was definitely maybe 3 stars. There just seemed to be a lot of confusion over which character should really be driving the story and plot, and where I, as a reader, should be investing my attention and emotional energy.
Bottom Line: I kinda wish I'd have spent the week reading a cool nordic murder/mystery...


back to top