The Alienist is currently airing as a mini-series drama on TNT cable. The series is based on the original crime novel best seller by Caleb Carr. For viewers of the TV version, the novel itself offers even richer historical depth and background to the story.
Set in 1896 New York City, during the Gilded Age period, the novel follows the hunt for a diabolical murderer of multiple young boy victims. The main character is the driven, acerbic Laszlo Kreizler. He works as an alienist, a term used for the then new field of abnormal human psychology. Kreizler seeks to use his professional training to catch the perpetrator of the string of boy killings. His methods are derided by the corrupt New York police force, who do not want his help in solving the case.
What Kreizler is really doing is trying to build an early version of what is now called criminal profiling in order to catch a serial killer. He is assisted by a team of colleagues, including a crime reporter, a female police secretary, and a pair of Jewish detective brothers. Backing up Kreizler's efforts is the young New York police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt.
The Alienist is notable for its combining of a chilling criminal investigation with a distinctive historical setting. At over 500 pages, the novel is a heavy read, given the author's dense, and often ponderous writing style. But the wealth of background material may be worth the reading effort.
After the success of this novel, author Caleb Carr wrote a sequel, The Angel of Darkness, which features the same cast of characters, this time on the track of a fiendish female serial killer.