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The Pale Blue Eye


The Pale Blue Eye

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 suspect.

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
by Louis Bayard

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060733985
  • ISBN-13: 9780060733988