Barbara's Reviews > The Pale Blue Eye

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard
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Mar 07, 10

really liked it
Read in January, 2010

What a smashing way to start 2010! This historical mystery is the epitome of the term "tour de force." Authur Louis Bayard sets a world-weary detective, Augustus Landor, to solving a mystery at West Point in 1830. One dark and gloomy night an academy cadet hung himself and then his body, which unaccountably disappeared for several hours, is found with the heart cut out. In order to penetrate the insular world of cadets, the older man must tap someone to act as his spy, a certain Cadet Fourth Class Edgar Allen Poe. The young Poe is drawn beautifully as something of a misfit, a thwarted poet with virtually no social skills, the butt of jokes, but filled with Romantic ideals guided by a first-class mind. As the story moves forward, it becomes clear that young Poe has a penchant for gothic tales, a "mommy" issue, and just happened to know the dead boy as one of his constant tormentors. The book wheels forward with ingenious plotting and fully developed, nuanced characters into a gothic Romantic tale of the first order -- a true tribute to Poe himself. I read this book in a matter of days, unable to set it down once I started. The improbable ending, which the reader accepts unconditionally at the end of the labyrinthine tale, adds true horror to an already-ghastly tale. The piece I most liked about this book was the reminder, over and over, that the world of Edgar Allen Poe was literally dark, penetrated only by candles and oil lamp once the sun set. The inky night becomes another character in this book -- as solid and unmovable and filled with barely perceptable threats as any villain. Bayard cleverly tosses famous lines from Poe's poetry and short stories into the narrative, and sets up a "debate" between the Romantic Poe and the Realist Landor that had this reader smiling ruefully throughout. Yet the thrill of the mystery is never diminished by these digressions -- each one instead in service to the story. A "tour de force" indeed!
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