Tuesday, June 09, 2015
The Alienist: #MSWL by Jessica Faust
As a young editorial assistant I was lucky enough to get my hands on The Alienist by Caleb Carr. It was a book I never forgot and one that inspired the types of books I knew I wanted to buy. In fact, it was a book that inspired buying the first in the Gaslight Mystery series by Victoria Thompson.
This past year I’ve been keeping you updated on what I’ve been reading. It’s been a fun exercise for me and hopefully will give you some insights into the types of books I’m hot on lately. Unfortunately, knowing what book someone has read does not necessarily give you insights into why she read it or what she most loved about it. And that’s the type of information that can become crucial when considering whether an agent might be right for your work. The more you know, the more power you have.
When I think back to reading The Alienist, 20 years ago when it was first published, there are certain elements that really grabbed me. I loved the time period. I loved learning about and seeing New York at the turn of the century and I loved the atmosphere Carr had created.
Not only is New York a city rich in history, but it's a city I personally love and have always been fascinated by. Carr wrote a book that kept me riveted and gave me a history lesson all at the same time. He took a real-life city and made it as much a character of the book as the characters themselves. He also included real-life people into his fictional story, something I think makes historical fiction even stronger.
I'm a sucker for non-traditional characters and the alienist was a definitely that. I loved that he wasn’t law enforcement, but had a career that made him a natural for solving crimes. In many ways he was the first profiler (a career I’m fascinated by).
For me a strong female protagonist is almost a must. It’s not that I won’t enjoy or read books featuring great male characters, but I like a character that I can imagine being and its rare I can imagine being a man. In this case our female character wasn’t the alienist, but she was essential to everything that happened.
And, in my mind, the darker the killer the better. I have long had a fascination for serial killers (in real life and in fiction) and a historical serial killer thrilled me. I was scared, sat on the edge of my seat, and read the book as fast as I could.
I wrote this post without looking back on the book. The Alienist is a book that stuck with me and I wanted to write what I loved about the book by memory. These are the things that stick out to me even years later and things I'm looking for in new submissions.
The Alienist is definitely the type of book that's on my #MSWL list.