Thomas Byrnes, New York’s Premier Detective

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.

Thomas Byrnes

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 →


Happy 10th Anniversary, 17th Street!

The Statue of LibertyAs 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:

10. Third Alienist Book
9. Caleb Carr Press
8. Caleb Carr News
7. Caleb Carr Biography
6. The Alienist Summary
5. The Alienist TV Series
4. The Alienist Map of New York City
3. Full Character List
2. The Alienist Movie
1. The Alienist Timeline

And with that, have a safe and happy new year, everyone! I look forward to seeing what 2016 brings.


Patrick Connor Character Profile

It has long bothered me that The Alienist’s supporting characters do not yet have completed character profiles here on 17th Street, particularly the historical figures. In order to correct this, I have decided to devote the next several months to finally completing the profiles once and for all. By way of beginning, you can find the newly completed character profile for Detective Sergeant Patrick Connor below as well as on the supporting characters list.

I cannot predict how long it will take me to complete the rest of the profiles given that most are historical figures, and I will be aiming to read at least one biography for each figure to aid me in completing their profile. I apologise for the lack of updates this will undoubtedly produce, but I’m sure you would agree with me that completed profiles for all the supporting characters are long overdue, and I hope you will understand why I’m taking the time away from the blog in order to finally complete this section of the site.

Connor, Detective Sergeant Patrick

Appears in The Alienist

John Moore, journalist and narrator of The Alienist, first meets Detective Sergeant Patrick Connor when he views the body of Giorgio Santorelli atop the Manhattan-side anchor of the Williamsburg Bridge in the opening chapters of the novel. Described only as slit-eyed and bearded, Connor is an adherent of the policing practices and attitudes that prevailed under Thomas Byrnes, the former police superintendent who had been forced into retirement the preceding year as a result of the wave of reform that followed the Lexow Committee’s investigation into police corruption. After initially causing Dr. Laszlo Kreizler consternation for spreading false information about the identity of the Giorgio’s murderer to members of the press, it does not take long before Connor is expelled from the force after it is discovered that he had also beaten Giorgio Santorelli’s father unconscious for refusing a bribe from a mysterious group attempting to hush the murder up.

Click here to read more. Warning: Contains spoilers for The Alienist

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Small Website Update

Filed under: Site NewsKim on

You may have noticed a drop-off in updates over the past few months on 17th Street. Unfortunately I am currently flat out with offline work and travel commitments which may continue to slow down updates of the website content over the next couple of months. However, I have taken some time out of my schedule this week for a small update that will hopefully make the individual posts in 17th Street’s history blog series and book blog series more accessible.

You can now find the special three-part series overviewing The Alienist’s themes on The Alienist submenu. In addition, links to 17th Street’s multi-part history blogs can now be found under the Alienist History submenu, while a new submenu entitled Related Books containing links to all of 17th Street’s individual book blogs can be found on the main Alienist Books menu.

It is my hope that more updates to the website content will follow in the coming months. In the meantime, I will be keeping 17th Street up to date with all the latest news about the television adaptation of The Alienist as it becomes available. Thank you for your patience.


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