How appropriate that the author credited with establishing the mystery genre, should appear as a lead character in a tale of that genre! In the pages of his book, The Pale Blue Eye, Louis Bayard beautifully weaves a tale of a young Edgar Allen Poe.
The year is 1830. The setting is West Point Military Academy, along the banks of the Hudson River. Our story begins on the eve of a grisly murder and mutilation that has turned the academy into a crime scene.
Bayard lays out his drama from the perspective of Augustus “Gus” Landor, the retired New York Cop hired by the Academy’s leaders to solve these crimes discreetly. The reader quickly learns that Landor is a man beaten down. It becomes evident quickly that a series of recent tragedies has left this widower a solitary and curmudgeonly man.
In the course of his investigations, Landor crosses paths with Cadet Fourth Classman Poe. Yes, none other than a young Edgar Allen Poe. He very shortly enlists the eccentric young man to be his operative. From that point, the story alternates between the narratives of Gus Landor and the reconnaissance reports Poe writes to Landor.
Through the voice of his lyrical reports Poe lays out his involvement with Lea Maquis, daughter of the Academy’s doctor. But will his romance with the daughter jade him to the eccentricities of this family, particularly her brother Artemis, who becomes the lead suspect of Landor’s investigation?
This tale is wonderfully written. Bayard’s writing style carries the eloquent quality of fine poetry, without getting so caught up in grand words that the plot is lost. He laces little details throughout the book and only reveals their significance in its final pages.
I approach all mystery novels with a strong air of criticism. Very rarely do I reach the end of a novel of this genre, without already knowing the responsible party. A work that can surprise me is, in my opinion, the very definition of a compelling mystery novel. By that definition, Bayard has created a masterpiece.
Even as I read his big reveal, all the insignificant bits suddenly gaining new importance, I applauded Bayard’s ingenuity. His approach is certainly one I have never before encountered.
This book is just the right amount of macabre and mystery, that any reader would expect of a work associated with Poe. Its pages are filled with lyrical verse and a touch of the morose. So, if you are in the mood for a mind-bending prose, explore the pages of The Pale Blue Eye.