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Reader’s Den

Reader's Den - Caleb Carr's The Alienist Part III

We now come to the third part of The Alienist, in which tragedy strikes close to home, not once, but twice. There are meetings the the high and powerful of New York, a chase heating up as the clues solidify into a killer's identity, and an extremely restless immigrant population riled even more by the bloody string of murders. As Moore says in the beginning of Chapter 43: "It is never easier to understand the mind of a bomb-wielding anarchist than when standing amid a crush of those ladies and gentlemen who have the money and the temerity to style themselves "New York Society."

This leads into Kreizler's final insight on the killer: "We revel in men like ----, Moore—they are the easy repositories of all that is dark in our very social world. But the things that helped make ---- what he was? Those, we tolerate. Those, we even enjoy..." What do you, dear readers, feel about this?

What about the contrasts between the lives of New York's lower class denizens and those of Kreizler's team members? Kreizler and the rest do not live in the same rarified atmosphere as the JP Morgans of the day, but dining at Delmonico's is still a far cry from the saloons and bawdy houses frequented by most New Yorkers of the time. Does this contrast still resonate, especially in light of the recent mayoral campaign?

How about the political and law enforcement structures of 19th century New York? They seem more concerned with keeping the immigrant population in check than with actually solving the crime and conditions that makes it so restive. This is a time not far removed from the Sacco and Vanzetti trial after all. The police department of the time was so famously venal and corrupt it needed a tough reformer like Teddy Roosevelt to help clean it up. 

There are also revelations about Kreizler that shed new light on his character and temperament. Some of this is brought about by the tragic events of Part III and some arise from his past. Do you think Carr did well in making the doctor more relatable and sympathetic as a person? What about the others? We never really delve further into the characters of the Isaacson brothers. I think it would have been a fascinating read for us, revealing what motivated them to pick up their unorthodox (for the time) methods of criminal investigation. We do know they worked as Pinkertons for a while and that they're Jewish, with all the problems that anti-Semitism caused them. Beyond that, not much. Perhaps in Carr's sequel?

One last brainteaser. What location is this and where does it figure into the book?

That concludes this month's installments of The Reader's Den, folks. Hopefully we'll all return for next year's!


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