Tim's Reviews > The Pale Blue Eye

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard
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Oct 30, 10

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Read in October, 2010

You can't swing a dead cat these days without hitting a book with historical characters in a fictional setting. And I swing a lot of dead cats, believe me.

When it's done well, though, who cares how many of them there are? And Louis Bayard does it well. Fresh off his fine "Mr. Timothy," his look at Dickens' Tiny Tim as an adult (OK, so Tiny Tim wasn’t historical, but you get the idea), Bayard threw Edgar Allan Poe into a novel. No, he’s not the first (or last) to do this, but "The Pale Blue Eye," which, of course, takes its name from a Poe poem, also is a success.
Whereas "Mr. Timothy" was only superficially connected to "A Christmas Carol," (really, it could have been any down-on-his-luck Englishman of the time) "The Pale Blue Eye" is full-on Poe circa 1830, when he was a cadet at West Point. Former cop Gus Landor is called in to solve the death (a hanging; suicide? murder?) and subsequent de-hearting (disheartening? OK, he had his heart torn out) of a West Pointer. Before long, Landor meets the then-unknown Poe, is intrigued, and enlists his aid in solving the crime.

More people die, Poe falls for the daughter of the West Point doctor, the relationship between Landor and the not-always-truthful Poe takes some twists and turns, and the crime doesn’t get much closer to being solved.

We get flashes of EAP's poetry. And about 10 percent of the novel is told from Poe’s point of view via his written dispatches to Landor, who’s otherwise the first-person voice here. Bayard handles these sections well; they sound authentic.

"Mr. Timothy" sure was fun; Bayard has a knack for grimly humorous protagonists. "The Pale Blue Eye" starts out in a similar vein until you almost get tired of Landor's whimsy. But the tone changes, gets serious, and we're smack in the middle of strange goings-on. Yeah, the West Point powers that be do seem awfully patient as Landor's investigation plods on more than a month; oh, well.

Bayard's "Poe book" (3.5 stars) isn't quite as fun or as good as his "Tiny Tim" book, but it is strong, and I hope he keeps stories like these coming. He's a good one.
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Sarah You hit the nail on the head: "plods on." far preferred The Black Tower and am eager to read Mr Timothy.


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