The Alienist  - Caleb Carr
This is a book I've meant to read for a while. It was finally bumped up from its spot down the bottom of my TBR pile thanks to this month's group read for the Mystery, Crime and Thriller Group.

Set in New York City in 1896, the novel tells the story of a team set up to investigate a series of murders, mostly of young male prostitutes. The investigation team is the brainchild of Theodore Roosevelt, NYC Police Commissioner in his pre-White House days, who is dedicated to cleaning up corruption in the city's police department and to solving a series of crimes that powerful forces would prefer to leave unsolved. The team is headed by psychiatrist Dr Laszlo Kreizler and includes a couple of eccentric police detectives, a journalist (who serves as the narrator) and a young woman who works as Roosevelt's secretary and wants to be a police officer.

What appealed to me most about the book is the historical and geographical setting. Carr makes 1896 NYC live and breathe. The book is packed with descriptions of and information about the locations in which the characters find themselves. In addition, real life identities are woven into the narrative. I had lots of fun reading while checking out people and places using Wikipedia and Google Maps.

What I liked rather less are the anachronisms. This aspect of the novel is most evident in the attitudes of the central good-guy characters. To a person they demonstrate remarkably progressive attitudes towards issues of gender, race, class and sexual orientation. The characters seem to belong more to the 1990s than to the 1890s. Another issue I have with the novel is that it has the feel of a contemporary psychological profiler / serial killer story plonked down into a historical setting. I appreciate that this has more to do with my failure to read the book earlier than it has with the book itself. When it was first published in 1994, that sub-genre of crime fiction wasn't as ubiquitous as it has since become.

Readers should know that the novel contains some graphic scenes, as is to be expected in a serial murder story. Given what can be found in other novels of the same type, these scenes are not extreme. However, the fact that the victims are children and young people heightens their impact.

Overall, I'm glad I finally got around to reading this one. The narrative held my interest and I loved the setting. However, I don't find myself enthusiastic about reading the sequel. I suspect that this will be a once only read, although I would love to read more about NYC in the 1890s.