A Daily Thriller? Yes, Please!

alienist

Hello folks… after a few months hiatus, I’m finally back to blogging.  During April, along with my usual book reviews,  I’m participating in the “A to Z Challenge”, which involves writing daily on my blog, using the theme “A-Z”. Since thrillers are one of my favorite genres, I’m will be writing a daily review of my favorite thriller novels, from A to Z.   So here we go…

The Alienist is an intriguing historical thriller with a perfect blend of  mystery and horror. Set in the 1896 New York City, Caleb Carr pits the new phenomenon of the serial killer against the precursors of criminal profiling in this fast paced novel. What is an alienist? Before the twentieth century, the alienation of the mentally ill from society was common. An alienist is someone who studied the pathology of mental illness, what we now call Psychiatrists. The plot centers around three friends: a journalist, John Moore; an alienist, Dr.Lazlo Kreizler; and a newly appointed Police Commissioner, Teddy Roosevelt (yes, the one who becomes president later on.) The trio are working to solve a series of brutal murders that involves a string of boy prostitutes. A reform-minded Theodore Roosevelt appoints Dr. Kreizler to head the investigation into the murders.  Kreizler creates a team of investigators who gather a “criminal profile” using psychological and material evidence of the killer. Narrated by John Schuyler Moore, a wealthy journalist and friend of Roosevelt from his days at Yale, chronicles his inclusion to the team.  As the story develops, the complex twists and turns change nearly as quick as the investigators can gather information. Despite Roosevelt’s difficulty in finding the serial killer, he’s determined to not only solve the murders, but also clean up the NYPD as well. The prevailing arrogant attitude of the public consider the murder investigations to be unneccessary, as the murder victims are merely prostitutes.  Kreizler faces challenges from all sides: notorious proponents of morality are unwilling to accept the existence of boy prostitutes (or any form of homosexual trade) and policemen are vehemently against any form of scientific inquiry into the criminal mind. The tension builds as the accumulation of the serial killer’s history, pathology and motivations come to light. In the end, the lengthy explanations of the killer’s motives  became tedious. Despite this tiny flaw, the book was fabulous.

RATING: 5 STARS

Father’s Day

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Me and my father.  Mantoloking, N.J., 1967.

It’s been nearly twenty years since my father died, and he’s still at the forefront of my mind. My father taught me many important life lessons. By being successful in business, he showed me the importance of perseverance and hard work. He was a reserved, understated man, who showed his love, compassion and generosity by taking care of our family and making sure we were happy. Material possessions weren’t important to him. During the summer, one of his greatest pleasures was walking Bonnie, our chubby yellow Labrador Retriever, along the beach.  According to him, this is where he conjured up his best thoughts.

My father was always a bit of a puzzle to me. On typical gift giving times, such as birthdays or Christmas, he insisted that I not buy him anything. He said he already had everything he needed.

I never realized how many lives he touched until I saw hundreds of people show up at his wake. People that I’ve never met, introduced themselves and told me how much my father helped their family, by paying bills, giving a family a car or helping someone get a job.

The best gifts we can give or receive are the ones we can’t see. I wish more people would understand this concept.

Dad, I love and miss you very much. Happy Father’s Day.

A Glimpse of Happiness Behind the Iron Curtain

May Day

(above, my Great GrandFather)

I rarely felt the warmth of a family connection, except during major holiday celebrations. During these times, my brother, sister and I could relax and just be ourselves. Compared to the rest of the year, we weren’t expected to behave like little soldiers. Christmas was my favorite holiday, for obvious materialistic reasons. Yet, May Day, a barely recognized holiday in the US, held a special place in my heart.

Every May Day, my father would reminisce about his free-spirited years as a young man in Europe. His intimidating facade vanished and his posture softened as he went int greater details of a May Day celebration. Decorating the Maypole took hours of work and the entire community sang and danced late into the night.

I relished these short-lived moments with my father, because I was able to see his soft side. He rarely talked about his happy youthful years. Perhaps, he didn’t have a happy childhood. His funny May Day celebration stories were a welcome relief from his usual somber stories of nearly escaping the Nazis.

In 1942 WW II Czechoslovakia, there weren’t many reasons to celebrate. Since my Grandfather worked in Germany, therefore making him a German citizen, the Nazis  considered my father to a German citizen as well.  The SS solders arrived at his house, demanded that my Grandmother release my father to them, in order to join the Nazi Youth Camp. After my Grandmother did some fast talking, the soldiers left, promising to come back for him.  For his own safety, my Grandmother told my seventeen year old father that it was urgent to leave the county immediately and live with relatives in New York City. One minor problem: my father didn’t have a passport.  My Grandmother asked the Mayor, who was her childhood friend, to help her out. Although the Mayor couldn’t obtain a passport, her gave her a letter, telling her that letter would be in lieu of a  passport.  My father recalled that he couldn’t make sense of the letter, suggesting that it was perhaps a message written in code. Whenever the Nazi soldiers asked for his passport, he handed over the letter he carried with him. He stood perfectly still as the soldiers read the letter. Shrugging their shoulders, they told him to keep moving on.

I shuddered every time he told us of the mandatory train stops by the German soldiers. Every man was told to line up on the train platform and drop their pants.  If a man was circumcised, a German solder would shoot him with a machine gun   on the spot. My father was one of the few lucky survivors who trudged back to the train, continuing his long journey to freedom. The chilling images of horrifying violence stayed with me for years. I can only imagine how it felt for my father.

I loved seeing the softer side of my father.  He smiled and laughed with his entire heart and soul. Just watching his stern expression melt into a big smile, made me feel as if he was giving me a giant warm hug.  He always seemed to have a lot on his mind. I still wonder what was written in the Mayor’s letter. If only he smiled more.