West Point Academy, 1830. A horrific murder has occurred on the
institution's grounds, which sends waves of panic through the
ranks. Superintendent Thayer dispatches Lt. Meadows with a summons
for Augustus Landor, now just a civilian, living nearby. He
requests Landor's aid in catching the killer, and the quicker the
better. Avoiding scrutiny and waste of time may save further lives,
and possibly even save the Academy, for there are people about who
would like to see the doors of West Point closed.
Until the day that Lt. Meadows came knocking, Gus Landor lived
quietly in a home on the Hudson River, his wife several years dead
and his daughter long ago run off with a young man, so the story
goes. Landor is blessed with Sherlock Holmes-like powers of
observation, and one would be wise not to underestimate his
deductive reasoning. So when the Point has an urgent need for a
stellar job of detecting, Gus seems like a superb candidate to
solve the gruesome mystery.
After hearing the details of the task before him, Landor accepts
the commission offered by the Superintendent, nobly turning down
remuneration but adamant in his request for an aide of his
choosing. His choice: Cadet Fourth Classman Edgar Allan Poe. Poe,
an awkward young man, somewhat older than his classmates and a
great deal less boyish, has a mind that works parallel to Landor's;
it is simply in need of a few more years' maturity. Between the two
of them, the murderer has no chance of escape.
Unfortunately, before they can discover the killer's identity,
another body shows up. As with the first one, the heart has been
savagely cut out, causing speculation that some sort of a fanatical
religious cult may be involved. Landor and Poe scour the grounds
for clues, interviewing the victims' acquaintances and even
listening to wild rumors. Their investigation leads them in the
direction of a First Classman, the son of a skilled surgeon. The
senior cadet has all the earmarks of a good suspect, but Poe finds
himself mesmerized by his sister and tries to defuse any
unnecessary accusations and avoid causing undue strife. His only
desire is to spend time --- and lots of it --- with the lovely Lea.
It is left to Landor to get Poe back on track, or it may mean his
life too, for the surgeon's son isn't the only viable
Louis Bayard richly fictionalizes Poe's short span at the Academy
and ultimately the reasons behind his expulsion in under a year.
His imagined story of the eccentric poet during his abbreviated
stay at West Point fits the facts, with some literary
embellishments that even Poe would likely applaud. THE PALE BLUE
EYE is worthy of, at the very least, the high praise Bayard
garnered with MR. TIMOTHY. Now, readers will be impatient to see
who this outstanding author sets his sights on next.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 14, 2011
The Pale Blue Eye