Welcome to 17th Street, a website dedicated to Caleb Carr and the Alienist books. It features the latest Caleb Carr news, a full author biography and interview list, book summaries and timelines for The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness along with synopses Caleb Carr's other work, analyses of the characters from the Alienist books, and information on the real history behind the Alienist books. Navigation for this site is at the top, showing the different sections of the site. Relevant links within the section (if applicable) will show up in the left column.
Exciting news, Caleb Carr readers! Penguin Random House have updated their website with the first information about a new novel from Caleb Carr to be released later in the year. “Surrender, New York” is due for release in hardcover on August 23rd, 2016 and will be 624 pages long.
No cover image or further details have been released, but the novel is listed on the Penguin Random House website in the “Mystery & Suspense” and “Literary Fiction” genres. Could this be the “other crime novel … with many historical overtones” that Mr. Carr mentioned in the New York Times web chat in 2013? Time will tell, but in the meantime keep your eye on 17th Street for the latest news about this exciting new development.
Last year I began the slow process of completing the supporting character profiles for the historical figures that appear in The Alienist. To do this, I have aimed to read at least one biography for each of these figures to aid me in completing their profile. While this proved to be a fascinating process for the first figure on my list, Police Superintendent Thomas Byrnes, it has resulted in my putting together a considerably longer profile than I had originally intended! As a result, I have only posted a summary of Byrnes’ role in the novel on the supporting characters list, and have decided to post his full character profile here instead as a history blog. So, if you are interested in learning more about this complex and interesting character, please read on. For any interested visitors, you can find the sources used in putting together this profile at the conclusion of the blog.
Early Life and Career
Although Thomas Byrnes, former Police Superintendent and Chief Inspector of the Detective Bureau, only appears in The Alienist on one occasion, he plays a prominent role in the novel behind the scenes and is mentioned a number of times throughout the text. Born in Ireland in 1842, Thomas arrived in New York City as a 10 year old when his family fled the Potato Famine, and grew up in the notorious Five Points district. When his father began drinking heavily and walked out on the family following the death of Thomas’ younger brother, Thomas and his mother were left to fend for themselves. To help them get by, Father Coogan of St. Patrick’s Cathedral managed to obtain a position for Thomas as helper in a firehouse, while his mother worked as a seamstress and his two sisters found employment as house maids. Even though Thomas had never been formally schooled, Father Coogan helped in this as well by providing his young charge with books for self-education.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, 19 year old Thomas joined Ellsworth’s Zouaves, the Eleventh New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and served during the Battle of Bull Run. He did not otherwise see much combat during his two years in the Union Army, and returned to New York following his discharge from the service in 1863. Shortly after this, he joined the New York City Police Department as a patrolman, and saw his first major action when the draft riots broke out. During the riots, in which a mob of Irish immigrants caused nearly $3 million of damage to the city and killed eighteen men during a week long spree following the first military draft, Thomas was recognised for his valiant efforts to protect the 233 children in the Orphan Asylum for Coloured Children, as well as assisting Police Superintendent John A. Kennedy who had been violently attacked and was lucky to escape with his life. Byrnes quickly rose through the ranks during the period that followed, becoming a Sergeant in 1869 and Captain of the Fifteenth Precinct in 1870 at only 28 years of age.
Byrnes’ posting in the Fifteenth Precinct undoubtedly helped his remarkable rise from Captain to Chief Inspector of the Detective Bureau during the ten years that followed. During his time as Captain, Byrnes investigated a myriad of cases ranging from petty theft to murder, and his name appeared in newspaper crime reports on an almost weekly basis. None of his cases, however, were was as well-publicised as the Manhattan Savings Institution heist of 1878. The robbery remains one of the greatest in New York’s history, with $3 million in bonds and cash (over $50 million in today’s dollars) stolen from the bank’s vault. During the long and complex investigation that followed, Byrnes successfully identified most of the culprits but there was a frustrating lack of convictions in the case due to the suspected bribery of jurors. Even so, the case helped to cement Byrnes’ reputation as an unrelenting crime fighter willing to go to any lengths to protect the interests of New York’s wealthiest citizens. | Continue reading →
As 2015 draws to a close, I would like to take a moment to recognise 17th Street’s 10th anniversary!17th Street first went live on December 31st, 2005 with the aim of providing Caleb Carr’s readers with a one-stop resource for the Alienist books. Although I had hoped to put something together to commemorate this special milestone, time has not been on my side for the second half of the year; however, as 2015 turned out to be the year I finally made it to New York City — even staying for a week in a brownstone on Irving Place and 17th Street — perhaps I have recognised the milestone after all. For those readers who haven’t seen an account of my travels, you can read about them in the two Following The Footsteps of Dr. Kreizler blogs posted earlier this year.
To close out 2015, I have two final updates to 17th Street’s content that may be of interest to visitors. First, The Alienist TV Series page has been updated to reflect the news that Cary Fukunaga will not be directing the entire TV series. It is not yet clear who else will be directing or how having more than one director will impact the series, but as more news comes to light it will be updated here. Second, Caleb Carr recently wrote another op-ed that has been added to the Other Publications page.
Thank you all once more for an enjoyable year of running 17th Street. 2015 has proven to be an exciting year for Alienist readers with a considerable amount of news regarding the eagerly anticipated TV series, more news regarding Caleb Carr than we have seen in many years, and for this lucky Alienist reader, there was also my aforementioned trip to New York City. In addition to those updates, 17th Street has also seen the addition of four new book blogs, a discussion piece on the books we love, and various odds-and-ends updates to the website content. Finally, for the curious among you, here are the top ten most frequently visited pages on the site throughout 2015:
Kreizler had engaged a first-class compartment, and after we’d settled into it I immediately stretched out on one seat with my face toward the small window, determined to strangle any curiosity I had about the behaviour of my friends with sleep. For his part, Laszlo pulled out a copy of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone that Lucius Isaacson had lent him and began very contentedly reading.
Although nearly two years has passed since the book blog feature was established on 17th Street, it is only now that I am finally overviewing the sole novel included by name in The Alienist. Described by T. S. Eliot as “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels,” and by Dorothy L. Sayers as “possibly the very finest detective story ever written,” Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone also served as inspiration for Caleb Carr in the creation of the Alienist series. So, for our final book blog of 2015, let us take a journey back to Victorian England in search of the lost Indian Diamond known to history as The Moonstone.
What’s it about?
The Moonstone, First Period, Chapter 10
‘If you ever go to India, Miss Verinder, don’t take your uncle’s birthday gift with you … I know a certain city, and a certain temple in that city, where, dressed as you are now, your life would not be worth five minutes’ purchase.’
The year is 1848, and the spirited Miss Rachel Verinder is celebrating her eighteenth birthday in the company of family and friends at a house party on her family’s estate in Yorkshire. On this festive day, Miss Verinder is given an unexpected birthday gift that will change her life when it is stolen from her private chambers less than 24 hours after she receives it. The gift is the famous Yellow Diamond, reputed to be cursed, that was looted half a century earlier during the storming of Seringapatam. In a tale that will take you from the ‘shivering sands’ of the Yorkshire coast to London’s bustling streets, Wilkie Collins’s 1868 bestseller introduced an eager public to the idiosyncratic Sergeant Cuff—forerunner of Sherlock Holmes—whose powers of detection are stretched to the limit by three mysterious Indian Brahmin who will let nothing stand in their way to reclaim the lost Diamond, and a household in which nobody is above suspicion.
To explain why it has taken me so long to feature The Moonstone on 17th Street given its significance to the Alienist books, it might be best if I provide a little background before I begin. I first read The Moonstone 10 to 15 years ago, shortly after finishing Wilkie Collins’s first bestseller, The Woman in White. Having loved The Woman in White, I dived into The Moonstone expecting more of the same. Unfortunately, this approach left me somewhat disappointed.
Although it shares the same multiple-narration structure as its forerunner, I found The Moonstone—an early example of the detective novel—more methodological, slower paced, and lacking the psychological intrigue that had drawn me into The Woman in White. That is not to say that I disliked the novel, but where I might have given The Woman in White 5-stars, I probably would have given The Moonstone 3.5 or 4-stars. Thus, faced with the prospect of writing a book blog on The Moonstone for 17th Street, I found myself putting it off for as long as I reasonably could. One reading, I thought at the time, was enough.
However, as the months—nay, years—passed, and I felt that I could not put this off any longer, I decided to try re-reading The Moonstone as an audiobook (narrated by Peter Jeffrey)—and boy, am I glad that I did! Whether I went into the re-read with the right expectations and frame of mind this time (after all, I do enjoy a good detective novel), or whether I simply found a format that suited me better for this particular story, I can say with complete honesty that I loved this re-read, so much so that The Moonstone has become one of my favourite books of 2015, and is a solid 5-star read. Now I finally understand what the Isaacson brothers were on about all this time! | Continue reading →