Finished Caleb Carr's Dr. Laszlo Kreizler Mystery Series, which at the moment is comprised of two books: The Alienist
and The Angel of Darkness
. The genre could be defined as a historical psychological murder mystery. Historically it's set in New York at the very end of 19th century: 1896 and 1897 respectively. Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is "an alienist" or what we would now call a shrink, specializing in child psychology but also providing psychological evaluations of criminals for "insanity plea" court cases. He is uniquely qualified to find a killer when few young boy-prostitutes turn up brutally murdered in The Alienist
. He is assisted by a rather interesting cast of characters: a journalist; a secretary who dreams of becoming a detective and is one of the first few women to have been hired by NYC police department; two Jewish police detectives, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson; and two former criminals, one of them a 12-year-old boy, who are now in Doctor's employ. They are all assembled and given a task of investigating the murder by the president of the board of New York City Police Commissioners: Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt at the time was trying to rid NYC police department of a wide spread corruption and Doctor's secret investigation was undertaken with president's blessing because it was obvious that it wouldn't get a fair effort from the actual detective force.
What Kreizler ends up doing in the first book is profiling a serial killer, method that was just being developed and tentatively employed in Europe for other high-profile cases (like Jack the Ripper). That, together with some "modern" forensic techniques Isaacsons use (author's vintage point is priceless in identifying the ones that actually work), as well as clever deductions, research and good old-fashioned detective work make up an investigation.
Second book was written in a different voice and author had a hard time in keeping his chosen narrator's language entirely consistent, it would slip into a more sophisticated tone every once in a while. The story started out with a kidnapping of a daughter of a high Spanish diplomatic official on the eve of Spanish-American war and concentrated on the slow unraveling of the kidnapper's gruesome past.
The mysteries themselves were gripping enough, though I am not a big fan of psychobabble and could stand a lot less of it. Some story lines were a bit predictable and character actions repetitive, especially across two books but writing was good enough to hold one's attention with enough suspense.
My favorite part of both books, however, was the historical backdrop of New York City, which was actually just transforming to incorporate the five boroughs. Caleb Carr is a historian and a New Yorker and it shows in the details and descriptions of the streets and neighborhoods, buildings and parks, landmarks and people themselves. You could feel yourself walking or driving along the streets noting existing sites, noticing missing ones. I even opened up a map for reference while reading. ( A bit of history for inquisitive minds )