Twenty-two years ago, Caleb Carr’s historical thriller “The Alienist” exposed readers to the criminal underworld of 19th-century New York, the prejudices then against the field of profiling and the systemic corruption rampant in law and order. I loved “The Alienist,” so it pains me to write that Carr’s “Surrender, New York,” despite tackling these same general themes in a contemporary setting, has little suspense and few thrills.
I blame Carr’s narrator. Dr. Trajan Jones, a profiler walking in the alienist’s intellectual footsteps, is unlikable (not in any good way). His dialogue is pedantic and his point of view is thick with righteous indignation. Even his banter with his partner, Dr. Michael Li, frequently falls flat.
Midway through an investigation into the murders of “throwaway teenagers,” Jones reflects: “My partner and I always fancied ourselves two servants of justice; with the throwaways case, the always exquisite and rare opportunity to combine justice with revenge had opened up before us. Oh, yes: in my fantasy, we were going to make the big city pay for the kind of moral outrages we had observed, the kind of callous and degenerate crimes that generally accompany wealth unregulated by ethical or physical restraints; and we were, at the same time, going to punish it for having used us so badly.”
If that didn’t make you snore, then “Surrender, New York” may be your speed.
Carole E. Barrowman is a writer and a professor in Wisconsin.
Surrender, New York
By: Caleb Carr.
Publisher: Random House, 598 pages, $30.