The Alienist, Caleb Carr

I hadn’t heard of The Alienist until I posted Top 10 books being adapted into TV series in 2018. The premise grabbed me straight away and I had the usual conundrum – read or watch it first? I found a copy in the local second-hand bookstore… so read won out!


When The Alienist was first published in 1994, it was a major phenomenon, spending six months on the New York Times bestseller list. It also received critical acclaim, selling millions of copies. This modern classic continues to be a touchstone of historical suspense fiction for readers everywhere.

The year is 1896 in New York. Newspaper reporter John Schuyler Moore is summoned by his friend Dr. Laszlo Kreizler—a psychologist, or “alienist”. Both witness the horribly mutilated body of an adolescent boy abandoned on the unfinished Williamsburg Bridge. From there the two embark on a revolutionary effort in criminology. They are creating a psychological profile of the perpetrator based on the details of his crimes. Their dangerous quest takes them into the tortured past and twisted mind of a murderer. One who will kill again before their hunt is over.

Fast-paced and riveting and infused with historical detail, The Alienist conjures up Gilded Age New York. With its tenements and mansions, corrupt cops and flamboyant gangsters, shining opera houses and seamy gin mills. It is an age in which questioning society’s belief that all killers are born, not made, could have unexpected and fatal consequences.


I really enjoyed The Alienist! It’s a very smart novel that explores the causes of insanity and criminality and what shapes a killer. The historical setting was definitely the selling point for me – I love stories about old New York.

The story covers all aspects of the investigation into a serial killer terrorising New York. Starting from their first case, it explores different investigative methods into the mind of the killer. It’s a story about emerging psychology and using it to fight crime.

Unfortunately, due to the logic that is used in finding and capturing him, the killer does become less threatening. While it is a thriller, it is less about jumps and frights and more about how the killer was shaped. Though, every step in the investigation is believable and feels hard-earned. However, the murderer becomes a fully realised person before they eventually met him.

The Alienist paints a very true and unforgiving representation of the unsavory parts of New York. It’s a city where it’s inhabitants struggle with prostitution, racism, alcoholism, slavery, and child abuse. It shows the very true realities of a father head figure – and what goes on behind a families door. You really get a feeling of the time period in the physical sense but by the attitudes as well. Especially the ignorance of the high society – the contrast between them and the world of the slums where the victims have come from.

I was only slightly disappointed in the ending. It has a very realistic feel which is a bit unsatisfying… However! Everything is wrapped up and all questions answered.

You’re a Sherlock fan or enjoy Patricia Cornwell’s earlier novels
Are you following The Alienist series? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!
In the mood for another thriller? Try Since We Fell by Denis Lehane here.
The Alienist Caleb Carr Book Cover

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