This is a re-read, although I wasn’t certain of that at first. The Alienist seemed like a book I might have read in the 1990s, but I had no recollection of it until I started reading it again, and by “reading” it, I mean, listening to the abridged audiobook ahead of TNT series set to debut next week.
It wasn’t really until about a quarter of the way through before it really began to register that I’d read it before, and I found it about as memorable this time as I must have when I originally read it, which is to say: Not that memorable. It’s not a bad book, mind you, and I suspect that it’s been highly influential in the years subsequent, but so many better novels have come along in this genre that it’s left The Alienist feeling basic. Generic. There’s not a lot of personality to it; it’s driven almost exclusively by plot, and the characters are fairly one dimensional. It reads like a really long procedural: The characters amass clues in rudimentary fashion until the serial killer is revealed and it goes through the cat-and-mouse motions of the apprehension.
I do feel like it could have made a pretty decent film if the right actors were hired to breathe some personality into it, but a 10-part mini-series seems excessive, especially one starring Luke Evans, the poor man’s Orlando Bloom, although Daniel Brühl — as Dr. Laszlo Kreizler — is a fine piece of casting. That said, revisiting the book, it feels like a series that belongs on TNT, and that’s neither a compliment nor an insult.