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Reader’s Den, Biblio File

December Reader's Den: Caleb Carr's The Alienist, Part II

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New York City in 1896 was not a hospitable place to live if you were not one of means. Part II of The Alienist opens with another gruesome murder of a boy prostitute, this time at Castle Clinton during its conversion to house the New York City Aquarium. 

Battery Walk, New York., Digital ID 800447, New York Public LibraryAs the team fleshes out the killer's profile, John Moore begins to investigate the worst of New York's sex industry, attempting to find connections between past and possible future victims. Moore is, in many ways, the opposite of his friend, Kreizler; passionate and headstrong where Laszlo is intellectual and clinical.

As a bit of a muckraking journalist, Moore is familiar with New York's underground in a way that even the detectives Isaacson are not. It is Moore who has most of the contact with the elegant Paul Kelly. Moore is the one who visits Biff Ellison's bawdy establishment. It is also Moore who's emotion pervades the narrative; his afternoon at Koster and Bial's moving picture with Mary, the burgeoning friendship with the boy prostitute Joseph, and the revelations about his brother.

The Concert Hall., Digital ID 809962, New York Public LibraryWhat do you think motivates this relatively well-off New York Times reporter? At times he can seem naive but this just a byproduct of how deeply he sees into others. Do you think he's naive or simply to emotionally involved in the case and with the team for his own good? Does he provide a sufficient counterpoint to the somewhat aloof Kreizler?

And what motivates Kreizler? He is, after all, the linchpin of the crew. His ideas and theories inform the investigation. We also learn that he was a student of the famous William James, one who vociferously disagreed with his teacher. 

Sir William James., Digital ID 1510654, New York Public LibraryNext week we will discuss the novel's conclusion in Part III.

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