Monday, July 9, 2018

The Alienist (Caleb Carr)

The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Have I ever told you guys that my degree is in forensic psychology? That's right, the psychology where your clients are either parents fighting for control custody of their children or the big scary guy who says he shot the patrolman because his neighbor was moving the "property line" during the night. (True story.) I was planning on going into the latter (the technical term would be "mitigation specialist" rather than "batshit loon", but I know which one you were thinking in your head.) I even worked with the Innocence Project and helped get a man wrongly convicted of murder off of death row after twenty years in prison. Honestly, I'm not sure how to top that with the rest of my life unless I come up with a way to actually cure criminalism.

That line of work didn't pan out, though. You see, you have to go on to graduate school to do any of that. A LOT of graduate school. And, since I graduated into a recession, there were exactly zero jobs to help pay off the debt I had already accrued, let alone to justify taking on hundreds of thousands more.

That's way more information about me than you probably ever wanted. I brought it up, though, because I think it gives some insight into why such a huge number of the books I choose are thrillers/horror/suspense/crime fiction. I didn't get to actually live that life, so I'll read about other people that do. (In college I dreamed of one day becoming Alex Cross. And if that meant being a tall, middle aged black man, then so damn be it.)

The Alienist is another one of those that I had never heard of until it was turned into a TV show.
People told me how good it was- so obviously, I had to wait to watch it until I had read the book. Except that, now that I've read the book, I am a little apprehensive to see if the show is as good.

Ignore the fact that he is a statue in a
museum of natural history. #loveislove
Another thing you might not know about me, but probably should, is that Theodore Roosevelt is my future husband. (My current husband knows about this, he's made peace with it.) So to read a book that combines A) my favorite subject (catching criminals by using what you can infer from their actions to figure out who they are), B) a feisty woman trying to make a name for herself in a man's world, and C) My future husband, was honestly the best thing I could have asked for all year.

This book did not disappoint. It shows you what psychological profiling would have looked like in its infancy, and I think does a fantastic job of painting the social scene and how it would be received at that time. Lazlo Kreizler is a behavioral psychologist who is well known in many circles, having studied under William James in the country's premiere psychology department (jealous!) and founded an institute where he tries to help children with social and mental disorders (which was, like, anything back then.) He has a theory:  by considering the evidence of serial crimes, noting the similarities and differences between each case attributed to a single person, you can, over time, create a decent idea of who might be the culprit; and on the other side of that coin, you can create a "negative image", an idea of who mightn't be the culprit. Both very useful things to know, who might and who mightn't've. (In case you were wondering, spellcheck approves of the word "mightn't've". I wasn't sure, and honestly I was testing my boundaries, but I am really happy with this knowledge. Made my fucking night)

I will admit that while the book, as a whole, was incredibly interesting for me, I can also see that other people might get frustrated with the amount of details given on the forensic sciences being used throughout, and the basis of some of the theories. For me, these are a fascinating topic; others may find the facts of how fingerprint analysis was discovered and slowly became accepted to be a boring, tedious topic. Especially smack in the middle of a murder spree.

Here's the short and sweet of it: this is Criminal Minds if it were set in turn of the century New York City. And Teddy Roosevelt is guest starring as the local police commissioner trying to simultaneously fight crime AND corruption of cops in his city. And, spoiler alert, he's kicking ass at it.

The Final Breakdown:

The Book
As a whole, the book is good, but the slower areas of the story really do make it tough to keep going sometimes.

The Writing
For me, the writing is fantastic because I LOVE when authors go above and beyond with historical information and accuracy.

As much as I am absolutely obsessed with this book, I can realize that it isn't for everyone. Also, there's this weird touch of romance sprinkled in random places that more confused and annoyed me than anything else.

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