Picks and Pans Review: The Angel of Darkness

updated 10/20/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/20/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Caleb Carr

The year is a seemingly genteel 1897. But don't be fooled: Trouble is always afoot in turn-of-the-century Manhattan, a fetid hellhole chock-full of cocaine-snorting gangs and crime-infested, prostitute-seething, traffic-congested streets. Ah, those were the days!

Yes, according to Caleb Carr, author of this swift-reading sequel to his stylish, bestselling 1994 mystery The Alienist, the New York City of yore was an exhilarating but terrifying maelstrom where innocent people—even babies—sometimes get killed. In the eye of the storm once again sits Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, the alienist, who is in essence a forensic psychiatrist using his groundbreaking theories to illuminate the mind of a murderer, much to the chagrin—and amazement—of the proper authorities. When the wife of a Spanish diplomat reports that her child is missing, Kreizler reenergizes his able but mismatched sleuthing team, which includes Cyrus Montrose, his African-American servant; Sara Howard, a suffragette private investigator; John Schuyler Moore, a boozy New York Times reporter; and a comical pair of moonlighting police detectives, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson, as well as the narrator, a resourceful petty criminal turned tobacconist named Stevie Taggert.

As before, historical figures like Cornelius Vanderbilt, "Diamond Jim" Brady and Albert Pinkham Ryder lend a credible hand to the proceedings. But it is this novel's penetrating social commentary (particularly in regard to antiquated notions of femininity), not its famous faces, that make Angel such an entertainingly convincing read. (Random House, $25.95)

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