I love historical fiction, historical mysteries, and the 1890s in particular, and this book is a fine example of the genre. The author’s prodigious research underlies a harrowing tale: police in 1897 New York City are finding murdered children, an increasing number of them, in strange, out-of-the-way locations. They’re baffled. Is a serial killer on the loose?

But such jargon doesn’t even exist then, and the police lack the sophisticated forensic technologies we have today. Even fingerprinting is an iffy proposition. The traditional approach of motive and the likely suspects yields no results. Enter the eponymous Alienist, a detective pioneering a methodology we know today as “profiling,” analyzing the “who” as much as the “why.”

Carr’s flashes of wit relieve the grim story as he pokes gentle fun at the twenty-course, all-night feasts at Delmonico’s (one member of the team has to be “forcibly separated from the lamb”) and the terror of a street urchin who may possess crucial information as he confronts the cheerful circle of detectives eagerly quizzing him about his squalid life.

*SPOILER ALERT* The mystery is ingeniously solved, the psycho-killer is trapped and apprehended in an action-packed climax, and we the readers may close the book knowing there is some justice in the world. Recommended.

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