In this sequel to The Alienist, controversial psychiatrist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and his eclectic team of investigators find themselves once again at the center of a complicated, disturbing case. The story begins when a Spanish diplomat’s baby daughter is kidnapped. The child’s mother approaches former police department secretary Sara Howard, now a private investigator, for help after her husband refuses to do anything to get their child back. Although tensions between the U.S. and Spain are blamed at first, the team soon learns that the kidnapper is Libby Hatch, a nurse with a troubling track record of babies dying under her care. As Dr. Kreizler and the others delve further into Libby’s life, both past and present, they find out they are up against a manipulative woman who has caused more destruction than they could have imagined.

While I’d say that The Angel of Darkness is just as good as The Alienist, this book has a very different feel to it, despite having many of the same characters. While The Alienist was more of a mystery, with the investigators trying both to identify and to stop the killer, The Angel of Darkness is more of a thriller. The reader finds out in the first chapter who the main villain is and what has become of her, and the rest of the novel reveals what is so awful about Libby Hatch, and why the team’s experience with her still haunts them. The other big difference is the novel’s narrator. The Alienist is told from the perspective of educated, well-to-do journalist John Moore, but The Angel of Darkness is narrated by Stevie Taggert, a former petty thief who began working for Dr. Kreizler after Kreizler saved him from a brutal life in prison. Stevie tells the story with a less refined tone, and he presents what is practically an insider’s perspective on the New York criminal underworld, having spent his childhood as a part of it. As a result, the dangers of dealing with the gangs and violence of that world felt much closer and much more real in The Angel of Darkness. While Carr certainly did not hold back from describing them in The Alienist, there was always a certain distance from all of it when an outsider was telling the story.

I think the most notable thing about The Angel of Darkness, though, is Libby Hatch herself, who is a surprisingly complicated villain for a thriller.  As vicious and deceitful as Libby can be, there is something desperate and tragic about her as well. There are so many sides to her personality—some real, some perhaps entirely fabricated—that she is not only a fascinating psychological study for Dr. Kreizler, but a challenge for the investigators that their target in The Alienist never presented to the same degree. I found myself wondering about Libby Hatch whether she could have turned out differently in a society that had different expectations of women, and I even came close to pitying her a few times, despite her shocking crimes—but Carr keeps Libby sneaky and evil enough to stop the reader from feeling much sympathy for her.

Like The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness presents appealing characters (though I thought Sara Howard was still a little too close to being a mere caricature of a late 19th century feminist), and an exciting, suspenseful story. Both books offer an interesting peek into a very different era of New York City history, which has been, for me, one of the most enjoyable parts of reading them. Caleb Carr has not written a book about Laszlo Kreizler and his associates since The Angel of Darkness in 1997, but I hope perhaps he will write at least one more someday. I would certainly welcome such a book, and I’m sure many other mystery and thriller fans would as well.

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