A very good sequel to a superb novel, Caleb Carr’s The Angel of Darkness picks up almost exactly where his surprise best-seller, The Alienist (1994), left off — in the New York of 1897, a city in which grand buildings, high society, and opulent manifestations of new money were a mere horse-and-buggy ride away from teeming cesspools of crime and corruption. Part mystery, part psychological case study, and part grimly revisionist urban history (apparently, there were some elements of life in Manhattan that escaped Edith Wharton’s attention), The Alienist succeeded not only as a wholly original invention but also, it turns out, as the template for an easily replicated formula.
The Angel of Darkness follows that formula almost to the letter, with results that are less satisfying than The Alienist’s were only because they are, inevitably, less surprising. Once again, Carr returns us to the institute of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, whose daringly modern use of forensic psychology — a field so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet — both confounds and fascinates the establishment. Once again, Kreizler and his team — the sibling police detectives Lucius and Marcus Isaacson, Sara Howard (promoted from police secretary to private investigator in this installment), reporter John Schuyler Moore, and 13-year-old petty crook-turned-mascot Stevie ”Stevepipe” Taggert — are called into action to solve a crime (baby snatching) committed by someone (a female child murderess) whose motives can be understood only through an exploration of her psyche. And once again, Carr’s fictional characters brush up against real ones — this time, the guest list includes Cornelius Vanderbilt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Clarence Darrow, and, returning from Washington just in time to help save the day, Teddy Roosevelt.
The Angel of Darkness suffers slightly from Carr’s decision to change narrators, replacing Moore with the voluble (to the tune of 629 pages) but less articulate Stevie, and from a central evildoer who seems to have one foot in 1897 and the other in modern-day tabloids. But Carr’s unblinking, scrupulously detailed vision of the darkest corners of a growing metropolis is as vivid and enthralling as it was in The Alienist. Let’s hope he’s saved enough material for at least one more book. B+