A number of very helpful website visitors have informed me that further information about Caleb Carr’s new novel Surrender, New York now appears on Amazon and the Penguin Random House website. Listed as a thriller and suspense novel, Mr. Carr describes his new work as “essentially a modern application of the principles and theories of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler to criminal behavior, especially that directed at children.” The novel’s full synopsis can be found below.
Caleb Carr, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, returns with a contemporary, edge-of-your-seat thriller featuring Dr. Trajan Jones, a criminal psychologist—and the world’s leading expert on the life and work of one Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, the hero of The Alienist, in whose brilliant but unconventional footsteps he follows.
In the small town of Surrender in upstate New York, Trajan Jones, a psychological profiler, and Dr. Michael Li, a trace evidence expert, teach online courses in profiling and forensic science from Jones’s family farm. Once famed advisors to the New York City Police Department, Trajan and Li now work in exile, having made enemies of those in power. Protected only by farmhands and Jones’s unusual “pet,” the outcast pair is unexpectedly called in to consult on a disturbing case.
In rural Burgoyne County, a pattern of strange deaths has emerged: adolescent boys and girls are found murdered in gruesome fashion. Senior law enforcement officials are quick to blame a serial killer, yet their efforts to apprehend this criminal are peculiarly ineffective.
Jones and Li soon discover that the victims are all “throwaway children,” a new state classification of young people who are neither orphans, runaways, nor homeless, but who are abandoned by their families and left to fend for themselves. Two of these throwaways, Lucas Kurtz and his older sister, cross paths with Jones and Li, offering information that could blow the case wide open.
As the stakes grow higher, Jones and Li must not only unravel the mystery of how the throwaways died, but also defend themselves and the Kurtz siblings against shadowy agents who don’t want them to uncover the truth. Jones believes the real story leads back to the city where both he and Dr. Kreizler did their greatest work. But will they be able to trace the case to New York before they fall victim to the murderous forces that stalk them?
Tautly paced and richly researched, Surrender, New York brings to life the grim underbelly of a prosperous nation—and those most vulnerable to its failings. This brilliant novel marks another milestone in Caleb Carr’s triumphant literary suspense career.
Here we are again at the close of another year. New Year’s Eve in 2014, however, is a particularly noteworthy date for 17th Street. Not only does it mark the conclusion of the 20th anniversary year of The Alienist‘s publication, it also marks the 9th anniversary of the website. In consequence, I’m pleased to be presenting the final part of the special three part blog series overviewing The Alienist‘s central themes in honor of both milestones.
In the preceding two parts of the blog series, we have explored several of the novel’s central themes, ranging from corruption and hypocrisy to domestic violence and childhood trauma. As we conclude the series in Part Three, we will continue the discussion begun in Part Two that the role of the mother was one of the key differences between the early childhoods of Dr. Kreizler and John Beecham, leading us to explore themes in the novel relating to the role of women in society, the role that mothers can play in domestic violence and childhood trauma, trust and betrayal, regaining control, psychological determinism, and changing the way we think about mental health.
The Role of Women in Society
Although it may seem as though The Alienist‘s sequel, The Angel of Darkness, is the stronger of the two novels in terms of themes tied to the feminine—that is, in its examination of what drives women to kill—it would be a mistake not to acknowledge that the role of women in society, and the role that mothers can play in domestic violence and childhood trauma more specifically, are themes that are as prominently placed in the original novel as in its successor. As early as Chapter 5 in The Alienist when we are introduced to Sara Howard, a close childhood friend of John Moore and one of the first female police secretaries, the unique experiences—and frustrations—of women in New York society of 1896 are brought to our attention.
The Alienist, Chapter 5:
“Sara—with all the professions open to women these days, why do you insist on this one? Smart as you are, you could be a scientist, a doctor, even—”
“So could you, John,” she answered sharply. “Except that you don’t happen to want to. And, by way of coincidence, neither do I.”
Sara’s inclusion in the novel as an intelligent, fiery, competent, and determinedly single-minded woman with the goal of becoming New York’s first female police officer is no accident. While her employment in the novel as police secretary is a clear nod to Theodore Roosevelt’s controversial decision to hire a female secretary upon becoming Police Commissioner (his real secretary, Minnie G. Kelly, was “young, small and comely, with raven black hair”; see 17th Street’s Island of Vice book blog for more information), she is also representative on a more general level of those women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who had begun to push back against the prevailing view that the only proper role for women in society was as a doting wife and mother in the home; an ideology that had dominated American culture from the late eighteenth century onwards (see 17th Street’s Education of Sara Howard history blog series for more information). However, it is important to note that Sara’s purpose in the novel in terms of social commentary is not strictly historical, as Caleb Carr pointed out in an interview with Salon in 1997:
I wanted to write a book with a female character whose reasons for being in the story did not depend on her falling in love with somebody. Women are still being brought up to believe that they have to build their bodies and their minds toward relationships and not toward independent existences of their own choosing. And I wanted to show that women can do that.
I, for one, appreciate Mr. Carr’s stance on this topic. Only last month The New York Times ran a piece pointing out that despite the bleak statistics on marriage, a large number of young women still see the “fairy-tale wedding” as their crowning moment in life, with the wedding gown continuing to be viewed by many as “the most important dress in the life of a woman,” as Oscar de la Renta stated in a recent Vogue magazine spread. As the author of the NYT piece pointed out, “He probably wasn’t considering what a woman would wear, say, as she accepted a Nobel Peace Prize, or was being sworn in as the president of the United States.” Clinical psychologist Sue Johnson went on to explain this mentality in the NYT piece using language strongly reminiscent of the woman’s sphere ideology of the nineteenth century, “Hillary Clinton might be the first female president, but a woman still wants this badge of legitimacy that she is wanted and desired by a man.” Accordingly, the inclusion of an independent female who remains single by choice in a bestseller such as The Alienist is a breath of fresh air, even if, as Dr. Kreizler observes to John,
The Alienist, Chapter 9:
“Women of such temperament,” he said as we moved to the carriage, “do not seem fated for happiness in our society. But her capabilities are obvious.”
“There is more than one type of violence, Doctor.”
Taking the role of women in society one step further, one of the less well-recognized themes in The Alienist is the role that women, specifically mothers, are capable of playing in domestic violence and childhood trauma. Although most readers would recognize this theme from The Angel of Darkness where the murderer was a woman who, lacking Sara’s financial freedom and family support, had been expected to fulfill the role of wife and mother—a role to which she was wholly unsuited, and was unable to come to terms with—the theme is, in fact, just as important in The Alienist. | Continue reading →
As we fast approach the conclusion of the 20th anniversary year of The Alienist‘s publication, I am honoring the milestone for the second last time on 17th Street with Part Two of a special three part blog series examining the novel’s central themes. In addition to presenting The Alienist as a superb piece of historical fiction, Part One in the blog series explored two of the novel’s central themes—corruption and hypocrisy—to help to explain why the investigative team attracted so many “powerful enemies” as they pursued their killer. Specifically, it was their enemies’ fear of exposure of “all the hidden crimes that we commit when we close ranks to live among each other,” as Dr. Kreizler put it at the conclusion of The Alienist, that was so very dangerous to the city’s power brokers at the time. As we continue our discussion in Part Two, we will be examining these “hidden crimes” more directly as we explore some of the themes in the novel that relate to the hidden world of the family behind closed doors.
Society’s Secret Sins
One of the more surprising twists in the final chapters of The Alienist was the assistance provided by Paul Kelly’s right-hand man, eat-’em-up Jack McManus, during John Moore and Dr. Kreizler’s final confrontation with the killer. Puzzled about why Kelly, a notorious gangster, might have decided to help the doctor in such an essential way given his efforts to cause mayhem and disruption earlier in the investigation (see Part One), one of the final scenes in the novel involves John visiting Kelly at the latter’s New Brighton Dance Hall. Although Kelly feigns ignorance about the part his henchman played in the crucial battle, he does provide John with one tantalizing hint regarding his motives.
The Alienist, Chapter 46:
“I’m not saying I know anything about it, of course. But ask yourself this when you get a free minute—of all the people who were up there tonight, who do you think is really the most dangerous to the boys uptown?”
This view is reflected in the outrage we see the censor of the United States Post Office, Anthony Comstock, express during a meeting he and other prominent New York figures, including the famed financier J. P. Morgan, have with John and Dr. Kreizler early in Part III of the novel. Comstock claims during this meeting that he believes it is Dr. Kreizler’s intent to “spread unrest by discrediting the values of the American family and society” through the pursuit of an investigation that relies heavily on a theory founded in psychological determinism being found to have merit; specifically, Dr. Kreizler’s theory of “context” in which it is proposed that an individual’s personality and behavior in adulthood is determined by his or her experiences during infancy and childhood. Comstock is not alone in his concerns, with J. P. Morgan joining Comstock in expressing his misgivings about the implications of Dr. Kreizler’s theory as well.
The Alienist, Chapter 30:
“Mr. Comstock has the energy and brusqueness of the righteous, Dr. Kreizler. Yet I fear that your work does unsettle the spiritual repose of many of our city’s citizens, and undermines the strength of our societal fabric. After all, the sanctity and integrity of the family, along with each individual’s responsibility before God and the law for his own behaviour, are twin pillars of our civilization.”
Although Dr. Kreizler successfully contends during the meeting that he has never “argued against the idea that every man is responsible before the law for his actions, save in cases involving the truly mentally diseased,” this is not the first time Dr. Kreizler has faced open opposition to his work or theories. Indeed, early in the novel we see John express his disbelief that Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt would so much as countenance the Doctor taking part in any police investigation given the general public’s opinion of his friend’s work. | Continue reading →
Regarding Kreizler’s final insight on the killer, what do you, dear readers, feel about this?
You can read the final insight the question refers to here. My mind is immediately drawn to what is probably my favourite passage in the entire novel, found all the way back in Chapter One:
The country, [Kreizler] declared tonight, really hasn’t changed much since 1896 … We’re all still running, according to Kreizler — in our private moments we Americans are running just as fast and fearfully as we were then, running away from the darkness we know to lie behind so many apparently tranquil household doors, away from the nightmares that continue to be injected into children’s skulls by people whom Nature tells them they should love and trust, running ever faster and in ever greater numbers toward those potions, powders, priests, and philosophies that promise to obliterate such fears and nightmares, and ask in return only slavish devotion.
In my view, The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness are as much a commentary on today’s society as they are on society of the 1890s, so it should come as no surprise to any regular visitor of 17th Street that I wholeheartedly agree with the above passage and final insight regarding the killer, and believe they are just as applicable now as they were for the time period in which the books are set. Although we’ve come a long way in many respects, in others we’re as blind as we’ve ever been — perhaps worse, in some ways, with the escapism certain technologies have provided along with the band-aid solutions certain drugs have provided. But that’s a topic for another day.
What about the contrasts in the lives of New York’s lower class denizens and those of Kreizler’s team members?
The beauty of the team’s composition in my view is that Mr. Carr appears to have made a point of including characters like Stevie Taggert who, prior to being taken under the protection of the doctor, very much fell into the “lower class denizen” bracket. I think that’s what I appreciate so much about The Angel of Darkness as well. Not only does the sequel provide us with a contrasting murderer, a contrasting developmental context for the murderer, and a contrast between city and country that we didn’t get (to the same degree) in The Alienist; it also provides us with a contrasting narrator in Stevie Taggert. As much as The Angel of Darkness captures the same city as The Alienist, we see many aspects of New York in a totally different light thanks to Stevie’s vastly different life experiences brought about by his early life on the street.
Does this contrast still resonate, especially in light of the recent mayoral campaign?
As for whether the class contrast still resonates, I’ll leave that one up to New Yorkers to answer. The only thing I will say, being from overseas, is that a comment on the recent New York Times Big City Book Club chat about Jacob Riis’ How The Other Half Lives struck me: “The HALF is now the ONE PERCENT. Looks like we need to review our arithmetic…” If that really is the case, I wonder how it might influence a third Alienist book, assuming Mr. Carr does decide to write one. Will it affect the parallels New Yorkers could draw from the book? Will it affect how Mr. Carr would choose to write the book? Mr. Carr certainly hasn’t been shy in expressing his opinions on the new class divides (or lack thereof) in the city in recent months.
How about the political and law enforcement structures of 19th century New York? They seem more concerned with keeping the immigrant population in check than with actually solving the crime and conditions that makes it so restive.
Corruption — it’s a universal theme that pervades the novel. This was an era when Tammany ruled New York; when police captains were rewarded with transfers to the most lucrative graft precincts in the city, thereby ensuring the protection of brothel and dive owners provided they could continue making the required payoffs; when agents for reformers were found guilty of blackmailing the same individuals they were supposedly trying to clean up; when the largest slum landlord in New York was the Episcopal Church; and when the Catholic Church relied on the donations of thousands of immigrants barely surviving in the crowded tenements of New York. Where money and power is concerned, I think the Paul Kelly of the novel said it best: “It’s a sucker bet, a crooked game, whatever you want to call it, and there’s a part of me that just wouldn’t mind seeing it go the other way for a little while.” Although, obviously, I don’t quite agree with Kelly’s methods!
Do you think Carr did well in making the doctor more relatable and sympathetic as a person? What about the others? We never really delve further into the characters of the Isaacson brothers … Perhaps in Carr’s sequel?
I believe that I’ve adequately explained my view on Kreizler’s portrayal in my responses for Part II. I absolutely agree that further background for the Isaacson brothers would be fascinating, though. Other than the tidbit we were told about the brothers being drawn to detective work after reading Wilkie Collins as boys, we know very little of their individual or shared motivations and background. My fingers are crossed that such an explanation will be provided to us one day in a third book.
Final brainteaser: What location is this and where does it figure into the book?
The image the brainteaser refers to in the blog post a little unclear, but I’ll suggest the Croton Reservoir. And for anyone who doesn’t know where that particular structure figures into the book… well, you’ll just have to keep reading!