The Angel of Darkness (1997)

by Caleb Carr

The Angel of Darkness is a sequel to Caleb Carr's enormously successful The Alienist (1994), featuring a 19th-century New York physician who was an early practitioner of psychiatry. The same cast of characters returns in the second book, and again there are atmospheric period details, forays into the then new fields of psychoanalysis and forensics, and cameo appearances by famous historical personages.

The premise is that a woman is as capable of murder, even of her own children, as a man. Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, an alienist (psychiatrist), and colleagues are enlisted to search for a kidnapped baby. They learn that a number of children have died under the care of their suspect, Libby Hatch, including her own. A prosecutor friend of one of the team charges Libby with murdering her two sons and attempting to murder her daughter, who survived to become a witness. Such historical notables as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Clarence Darrow, and Theodore Roosevelt figure in the trial and Libby's capture after she escapes from jail.

While The Alienist was praised for its faced-paced plot and historical details, The Angel of Darkness moves at a plodding pace and is too long. The less-than-convincing plot is overshadowed by sideshows and historical details. Carr's angle of psychology's role in crime solving is unsatisfying when Libby Hatch's motives remain murky at the end. And narration by Stevie Taggart, the uneducated boy whom Dr. Kreizler rescued from a life on the street, is annoying, especially his incessant use of "what" for "that," as in "a fact what struck me as odd." For those interested in visiting New York in the 1890s, The Angel of Darkness might be worth a read, but those looking for a psychological thriller are likely to be disappointed.


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