In this interesting but somewhat glacially paced fiction (for much of the tale anyway), Louis Bayard does a yeoman's job of recreating the atmosphere and feel of early 19th century America, right down to its characteristic literary voice. Yet the mystery, itself, is peculiar for most of the way through, being not highly mysterious as one can pretty much guess who the suspicions of retired New York constable Augustus Landor will light on well before they light. More, too much of the tale is taken up with Landor's musings and seemingly pointless digressions.
It's the addition of West Point freshman cadet Edgar A. Poe, however, that gives the tale resonance thanks to Bayard's colorful portrayal of the youthful dissolute and aspiring poet in the supporting role vouchsafed him in this novel. Recruited to aid the retired constable, young Mr. Poe is nicely drawn and even convincing, in his period romanticism, as the two "detectives" set out to discover the perpetrators of an apparent murder of a West Point cadet, in what seems to have been rigged to look like a suicide, and to discover the miscreants behind the subsequent desecration of the corpse and how the two deeds may be connected.
Nevertheless, though the upper New York environs and ambience are handled with great attention to detail, this novel's nod to 19th century sensibilities comes off as overdone in places, slowing the read more often than aiding it. At times, in fact, the author's choice of phrases seems almost too precious, as if he were trying just a mite too hard to capture the era and its voice. In fact, Poe, himself, who apparently inspired this novel, achieved the effects he did with much shorter narratives even while indulging in just such 19th century meanderings. In a tautly written piece which a mystery or thriller must be, there is only so much meandering a narration can sustain.
Equally as disappointing, the unraveling of the primary mystery in the final quarter of the book is done with a near-pulp sensibility, being overwrought and drawn out to the point where you find yourself going on just to be done with it. Nor are the motives of the the culprits satisfactorily exposed or explained at the denouement and one is left with a vague sense of dissatisfaction. But in a final homage to a Poesian sensibility, the author has a further twist in mind which he only unveils in the final pages, a twist that changes the whole tone and tenor of the story, echoing Poe's own penchant for surprise and dark endings steeped in madness. There isn't much that can be said about it without destroying the effect so I'll offer no more, but suffice it to say that, if you can stick with the long and often ponderous narrative, despite its heavy-handed affectations, interspersing the testimony of Landor with that of his peculiar assistant, Cadet Poe, the abrupt revelation at the tale's end makes the story a worthwhile read.
Until that point I had determined on a much less warm endorsement here. But the unexpected reversal via the final revelations, however heavy-handed in their own right, proved surprise enough to reverse my opinion of what might otherwise have been an undistinguished period mystery whose main claim to fame had been the inclusion of a still young and wet-behind-the-ears Edgar Allan Poe.
A richly complex gothic mystery, a psychological thriller, a compelling period historical fiction, THE PALE BLUE EYE is a fictionalized re-creation of a brief segment of the life of West Point Academy cadet, horror and sci-fi author Edgar Allan Poe, as a young man in 1830.
In "Mr Timothy", Louis Bayard penned an exceptional debut novel that imagined the life of one of Dickens' best known characters, Tiny Tim. His second novel, "The Pale Blue Eye" is a worthy successor - a literary masterwork that easily vaults over the high bar of expectations created by the phenomenal success of "Mr Timothy". "The Pale Blue Eye", at once a richly complex gothic mystery, a psychological thriller and compelling period … more
As 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, it's fitting that the interests of several novelists have turned to him. Louis Bayard chose to depict Poe in a little known segment of his life, his tenure as a cadet at West Point. The mystery revolves around the death by hanging of one of Poe's classmates. Retired NYC detective Gus Landor is brought in by the Superintendent to solve the crime, and he enlists the aid of silver-tongued Cadet Poe as his inside informer. As … more
When Gus Landor, a retired constable, is called to West Point to investigate a gruesome crime, he has no idea how his life will be affected by those he meets and the strange turn of events that send an unusual crime into the realm of the bizarre. A young cadet is found hanging, begging the question of suicide because Leroy Fry's legs are still touching the ground in spite of the rope around his neck. To make matters worse, the body is stolen before it can be attended, found … more
Most Poe fans are aware that the poet spent a short time at West Point, before being court-martialed and dismissed. This author's plot takes place during that brief time, and involves Poe in helping a retired New York City detective to solve one murder, which eventually evolves into two. The writing is crisp and the plot moves along quickly. The author has captured as well as possible the unusual nature of Poe, and all of the other main figures are extremely well-drawn. This is an exciting mystery, … more
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.