CALEB CARR'S THE ALIENIST
Published in 1994, The Alienist is a gripping whodunnit novel featuring Teddy Roosevelt (yes, that Teddy Roosevelt) as the Chief of Police in New York City, circa 1896. Murders are happening in his fair city and Mr. Roosevelt bucks the system by quietly putting together a diverse group of folks to perform the first psychological profile of a killer. Back then, people with mental difficulties were considered to be “alienated” from themselves, others, and society; doctors who treated such individuals were called Alienists. Needless to say, one of the profilers is a famous alienist. There’s also a reporter, Mr. Roosevelt’s police department secretary, a servant, a street boy, and two detectives with new and untested investigative methods of uncertain outcome. It’s a gruesome novel to be sure. The crimes committed are described in horrible detail in the language of the era and the thoughts, feelings and behaviors behind the language are vastly different than what we “modern” people might consider acceptable. Oh, I’m sure there’s still a modicum of a similar prejudice in modern day New York City, but some of this book might offend delicate sensibilities. All that being said, the crack investigative team eventually solves the multi-layered puzzle, figures out who the killer is, and goes about setting a trap to catch him. This is a huge oversimplification of a (in my opinion) flawless and complicated – but superbly excellent – novel.