Carr has done an excellent job. The story line and the characterizations were excellent.
To his credit, Carr manages to refer the reader to the protagonists' earlier adventure (see The Alienist) while at the same time providing enough information about the earlier adventure so that it stands alone. This serves both the reader familiar with the Alienist but who needs to have their recollections refreshed, and the first time Carr reader. (I am often frustrated and annoyed at authors who presume reader familiarity with their collected works.)
Carr also manages to portray early-day feminists and feminist theory in what I perceive to be an authentic fashion. In other words, I felt he accurately portrayed feminist thought in its incipient stages. Any so-called immaturity of thought on the parts of those characters seems, in historical context, appropriate.
My only complaint was the voice of the narrator, Stevie. The intonation, accent, and method of speaking may very well be accurate. However, I found it grating to see the obligatory "what" every few paragraphs. (E.G. The girl what had the burney.) I am both relieved and intrigued to hear that Carr plans to write additional Alienist volumes and put each one in a different voice. All in all, an excellent work.
on July 6, 1998
If you've already read "The Alienist" you can skip the first 100 pages of this book, it takes that long for Carr to settle into telling the story of Libby Hatch. Whereas "The Alienist" was told from the viewpoint of John Moore, a journalist for The New York Times, "The Angel of Darkness" is narrated by Stevie Taggart, one of the characters from that first book. Once the book actually gets going, however, it's first-rate, in particular the courtroom scenes with Clarence Darrow and the sections in which Stevie and Miss Howard (also from the first book) drive around upstate New York searching for information about the elusive Libby. Theodore Roosevelt makes a reappearance in this book as well although I thought his whole reason for getting involved in the case was a bit contrived. On the whole, however, it's a well-written and interesting book. Carr twice hints that the next book will be written from the perspective of the independent and energetic Sara Howard, which should be most interesting.
"A sequel to 'The Alienist'? YES! " I actually shouted that out loud in a library when I was told about "The Angel of Darkness." Again, Caleb Carr paints an intricate portrait of Golden Age New York, and brings back all the great characters from "The Alienist," utilizing a unique twist in changing his narrator from society reporter John Moore to the street-smart Stevie Taggert, whose less-than-perfect grammar doesn't obscure his keen observations. Again, Carr utilizes real-life historical figures, most notably a young Clarence Darrow, to bring authenticity to the story of a female child-murderer and the investigation that brings her heinous crimes to light. So why only four stars? Those of you who have read Ann Rule's "Small Sacrifices" will see a lot of Diane Downs in murderer Libby Hatch--in fact, Carr cites Rule's book as an influence. Overall, though, a great sequel--can't wait for the next one!
on January 5, 2005
It pains me to say anything derogatory about a Caleb Carr novel, as no one was more lavish in his praise of The Alienist than I was. First of all, while The Alienist was told by a journalist, this one is told by a former street urchin/hoodlum, Steve Taggart, nicknamed "Steve Pipe" for the weapon that saved him from being raped by a prison guard. It's a wonderfu idea to switch narrators, but it soon contradicts itself when Stevie says he's a simple man, so a simple way of telling things is the approache he'll take. Then he proceeds to write like Henry James channeling through Caleb Carr, using language and images that are far from simple. And the first several chapters are slow, over written, and the ending is a bit unsatisfying. All the said, there are still the marvelous Caleb Carr trademarks: the depth and breadth of New York society, complex plots, story twists and turns, and a feel that were are really there, walking down Broadway and riding through Gramercy Park and meeting another wonderful cast of characters. Like Robert Harris, whose brilliant Enigma was followed up by what I thought was a far inferior Pompeii, Mr. Carr has set his personal bar so high that matching himself is a great challenge. This book is long, detailed, will require some effort. But Caleb Carr's "B" game is better than many writer's "A" games, and when I finished, I would not have missed it. Just push yourself through the first few chapters and see if it hooks you like it did me and most of my reader friends.
on January 23, 2000
Caleb Carr has brought together, in this novel, a motley organization of characters, some of whom represent people we know in everyday life, with the hopeful exceptions of Libby Hatch and, perhaps, the Dusters, and a few other folks. Not having read "The Alienist," as some other reviewers have, I am not in a position to compare this work against that one. And, rather than talking about the sultry conditions of parts of New York City at the last century's turn, or the plot line itself, or the emerging Spanish-American War, I prefer to focus on a couple of other issues that Carr asks us to consider.
I think an important question this book raises is society's role in constructing an image of what a woman is "supposed to be" that, in reality, does not and may never have conformed with who women actually are, but which may make certain people feel more comfortable. If, further, society, which has been arguably more influenced by men than by women, creates an image that some women simply cannot fit into, who is to be held responsible for her transgression -- the woman or society? Both? Neither? Another issue is just as significant, I think, and revolves around whether it is more important to punish persons like Libby Hatch for their heinous behavior or to spend our energy trying to understand why they do such things as murder their own and other children, so we can possibly learn, from understanding them, how to avert future travesties.
Carr may have overextended believability by including characters like Darrow and Roosevelt, and left some of us feeling bereft by not allowing us to get to know El Nino or Kat a bit better, but Darrow does play a central, if more psychological than legal, role in a singularly important part of the narrative. Darrow, after all, is the person who confronts the doctor with the question of the doctor's central motivation for his life's work: does the doctor do what he does -- not so much for the victims themselves, as the doctor would like to believe, and has possibly believed all of his professional life -- but, rather, to work through his own personal and deeply embedded psychological issues? Are the doctor's motives not as "pure" as he appears to think they are? I do not believe it is important to determine whether this was just another lawyer's trick; what is important here, I think, is that Carr brings to light exactly what was going on as clinical psychology was starting to develop its own understanding of itself as well as of psychopathology during the years in which his novel is set. In my view, Carr did a very good job of inserting these ideas into the novel without beating us over the head with them.
Personally, while it is clearly important to engage in a debate about plot, character development, and other literary issues, about which I am certainly no expert, I think it is equally valid to congratulate Carr on his ability to powerfully interweave sociohistorical and psychological issues with an interesting, and even compelling, story. I plan to read "The Alienist" soon, since I want to know, among other things, whether Mr. Moore was always as "burned out" as he appeared to be in this work, and whether the doctor should have made a quick trip to Vienna for a consult with Dr. Freud about transference issues!
on June 2, 2007
In "The Angel of Darkness", Caleb Carr returns his readers to the atmospheric, intriguing, rough and tumble world of late nineteenth century New York. The story is told through the eyes of Stevie Taggert, a former young thug rescued from a miserable life and almost certain early death as a street kid already up to his eyes in street crime and drugs by his guardian, Dr Laszlo Kreizler, the famous psychiatrist first introduced to us in "The Alienist".
During the politically troubled era preceding the onset of the Spanish-American War, the wife of a Spanish diplomat, whose baby has been kidnapped, frantically appeals to Sara Howard, a private detective and proud feminist who specializes in helping troubled women, for help to rescue the child before it is murdered. Sara in turn appeals to her friend, Dr Kreizler and their colleagues for their assistance in this most puzzling case - Stevie Taggert, Cyrus Montrose, Kreizler's faithful man-servant, Jonathan Moore, crime reporter for the New York Times, and Lucius and Marcus Isaacson, the brilliant yet comedic Jewish twin brothers hired as NYPD detectives by Teddy Roosevelt when he was chief of the force. When the kidnapper's identity is discovered relatively early, the tale changes from a whodunit into that more modern complicated breed of thriller that explores the "why" of the crime!
As the story is told completely through Stevie's eyes, the reader is treated to a wonderfully smooth, linear narration that is both complete and straightforward to follow from the plotting point of view. But that simple statement belies the scope and depth of this wonderful story that includes discussions of the birth of modern feminism, the ravages of cocaine and drug addiction, the growing use of modern crime-fighting tools - forensics, psychological profiling, fingerprinting, ballistics, microscopic matching of hair and fiber samples - and the psychology of that most puzzling and disturbing of criminals, the female serial killer!
For good measure, Carr also treats his readers to appearances of real-life historical figures that are substantially more than tossed off cameos - Theodore Roosevelt as pro tem head of the US Navy prior to his election as president leads a group of feisty sailors in a brawl against a brutal street gang; Clarence Darrow is observed in a thrilling courtroom drama establishing his reputation as one of the most brilliant defense lawyers that the US has ever seen and Elizabeth Cady Stanton whose early musings formed a substantial part of the basis of modern feminism is called upon as a critical witness for the defense.
Four stars and two thumbs up. Lovers of historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy "The Angel of Darkness" and cross their fingers that Carr will deliver on the rumour that there are more "alienist" novels in the works to be narrated by some of the other members of the team.
on April 17, 2005
In this sequel to The Alienist, Caleb Carr begins the novel with a dialog between returning characters Stevie and John Moore. Typical of their characters in the first book, the two men place a wager on who could write a better story - Moore writing of the serial killer they tracked in The Alienest, or Stevie writing of Libby Hatch, the killer that forms the basis of this book. What unravels in the next 700 pages is the story of a woman who killed children in an era where people could not believe that a woman could have that kind of evil in her. All of the characters from the first novel have returned to fight crime and solve the mystery once more. The detective brothers make use of their advanced education in evidence analysis, the Doctor lends his unique insight into the minds of criminals, Cyrus remains the Doctor's loyal friend and associate, and Sara Howard lends her femine touches to the investigation.
Again, Carr has written an exciting historical novel - the page turning story is supported by insight into the resources that police and forensic psychiatrists had, but more often did not have at the turn of the century. It is an analysis of the early examinations of women and their role in crime. The characters are fun and welcome in this second installment. Adjusting to Stevie as the narrator does take some time if you have recently read The Alienist, but ultimately this perspective works. In the end, it will likely be a personal choice as to whether John or Stevie wins the bet with the better writing, but even if one book is better than the other, both are well worth the read.
on January 4, 2000
This book could have used an entire TEAM of brutal editors to chop it down and hone it into an effective, gripping story. But no, somehow this overlong book made it out to the public. The storyline simply collapses under the weight of too many words, too many pages. I nearly abandoned the book after 100 pages, but I'm glad I didn't, as the story started to roll along at that point like an engine with a faulty starter that you have to crank and crank before it fires.
The story is very interesting, as are the characters and their interactions with each other. Oftentimes, though, the characters are too one-dimensional and stereotypical.
The attention to period details was nearly flawless, although oriented towards a cynical 1990's audience. All those winking references to famous people from the 1890's were highly entertaining.
Like many of the other reviewers here, I was extremely annoyed at the narrator's irregular substitution of "what" in place of "that". See, there's dialogue writing that gives the reader a genuine sense of regional speech, like in Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath," and then there's lame attempts at "genuine" dialogue that bothers and slows down the reader. "Angel" falls solidly into the latter category.
The story moved along toward a fairly satisfying conclusion. There wasn't a lot of suspense involved. No, this was more of a long puzzle of a book, with a few anticipated surprises thrown in to keep you reading.
Ah well. Not a bad effort, overall. You could do worse. If Carr writes another one of these novels featuring the same cast, I hope he doesn't write it from Stevie's perspective and stops pandering to his audience. Like THAT will happen.
Caleb Carr, The Angel of Darkness (Random House, 1997)
Caleb Carr's logorrhea often gets the best of him, and The Angel of Darkness is no exception. The most common criticism levelled at this book is that it could have used a good editor. This is absolutely the case; the first hundred fifty pages (or more) are glacially-paced. But still, when it comes to period mysteries, there are few who are on Carr's level; here, he turns his attention to the courtroom drama, and his mastery is even more apparent--once he gets going, that is.
Two years after the events of The Alienist, the gang are settled down into their lives again, with a few exceptions. Stevie is now working for Doctor Kreizler as houseboy and general gofer, for example, rather than being a street thug. A woman comes to Sara Howard's detective agency to report that her daughter has been kidnapped. Worse, on the eve of the Spanish-American War, this woman is the wife of the Spanish Ambassador-- who seems determined to keep the kidnapping quiet. Thus, Sara assembles the old team again to try and find the kidnapped child, and in doing so uncover something far more disturbing.
Stevie is the narrator this time, which can get a bit annoying (his repeated substitution of "what" for "that" may be historically accurate, but it's still a pain), but the story is still Carr's. There's the mystery, the culprit, and this time the court case, where Carr gets to turn his jaundiced eye on high society in fin de siecle New York. And, as usual, it's the details that make this book something more than the average courtroom drama (Stevie's running commentary on the betting line Saratoga bookmakers are offering on the outcome of the trial by itself makes the book worth reading). As usual, Carr laces his narrative somewhat liberally with historical figures, so if seeing Teddy Roosevelt pop up in a novel is one of your pet peeves, you'll probably want to stay away from this one. And, as previously mentioned, Carr's ability to edit is just as absent as it was in The Alienist. Still, it's a cracking good read once the pace picks up, and if you like your courtroom drama in top hats and tails, you'll get a kick out of it. *** ½
on November 18, 2015
Angels of Darkness is the second of Caleb Carr's novels to attract my attention. Carr is a fine and detailed writer who transports the reader to a different time and location. His writing is also based on historical accuracy which only makes the stories he shares more real. He is one of my favorite writers.