The Alienist by Caleb Carr (’70). The Alienist is a complexly textured psychological crime novel set in New York at the end of the nineteenth century. Though I can’t watch Criminal Minds because of the gory crimes, I managed to face up to the carnage here because of the authenticity of the backdrop and the fascinating team, who virtually invent the technique of the psychological profile. Inspired by such true-life psychologists and psychiatrists as William James and Adolf Meyer, Lazlo Kreizler, the alienist; John Moore, the journalist and narrator; and several of Kreizler’s rehabilitated patients search for a killer with clues provided by the crimes themselves. Other historic personages (particularly Teddy Roosevelt, who at that time was the police commissioner) interact with the team. Kreizler lives on 17th Street, right on Stuyvesant Square (though a calèche and not a SUV is parked in front). I read this book when it first came out, and now rereading it, I can appreciate Caleb’s skill in the pacing: new clues appear just in time to make the reader stay up for yet another half hour. I was happy to see that in late January, TNT is presenting a series based on The Alienist.
Nov 23, 2019
Murder at the Columbarium by Emily Gallo ’67. This is the third novel of Emily’s I have read with Jonestown survivor Jed as the protagonist. Having found a way to go forward as caretaker for this facility for cremains, Jed has also maintained a network of friends and a committed partner, Monica. A character of great empathy, Jed found in the past that rocking crack babies calmed both the babies and himself as he struggled to keep his past from overwhelming him. Now he finds himself in the midst of a murder mystery. After coming upon the body of a young woman wearing a hijab on the grounds of the Columbarium, he is startled to also find with her a healthy baby. Clues lead to a pot farm, international drug traffic, and some harsh Pakistani customs. The plot is well-paced and keeps the reader guessing as the facts unfold. Malcolm, whom I first met in Venice Beach, comes back to play an important role, and Jed’s baby rocking skills come in handy. Though a brutal murder is at the center of the story, the book provides a heartfelt, humanizing look at those often marginalized by society: the trans, the HIV positive, the poor, and even the skinhead.