four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
By: 
Louis Bayard
user_rating: 
0

A-The Pale Blue EyeEdgar Allan Poe spent all of six months as a West Point cadet before being discharged for disobedience, but—as Louis Bayard imagines it—the Academy may have inspired some of Poe’s fiction. In 1830, Gus Landor, a former New York City police detective (from Poe’s real-life story "Landor’s Cottage") enlists Poe, a student with two volumes of poetry under his belt and a fondness for drink, as a sidekick in his investigation of the death of a cadet who was found hanged—and missing his heart. Working together, the two men form a deep bond as they delve into a world of bloody rituals, satanic cults, and each other’s darkest secrets.
HarperCollins. 413 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060733977

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Bayard has a gift for Poe mimicry and, as well, for constructing a labyrinthine plot. … It’s a vibrant, throbbing, heart-wrenching read." Tom Dodge

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The who- (and why-) dunit aspects propel a story that is full of delightfully unexpected twists that continue, to the very last pages of the novel, to take the reader by surprise." Robin Vidimos

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Louis Bayard’s clever The Pale Blue Eye is an exquisitely rendered character study, imaginatively Gothic, compelling even when its action stumbles into high camp. … Bayard wisely never acknowledges what he knows we’re thinking—that one of Poe’s future stories will betray what might be considered an unseemly interest in tell-tale hearts." Connie Ogle

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Bayard’s shockingly clever and devoutly unsentimental new mystery reads like a lost classic. … The regimented, gloomy world of West Point, with all its staring eyes and missing hearts, forms a perfectly plausible back story to the real-life Poe’s penchant for tintinnabulation, morbidity, and pale young women, first initial L." Ada Calhoun

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Set in 1830, The Pale Blue Eye not only draws an uncanny and original portrait of the famous writer but also captures the imagination with exquisite details and a compelling, disquieting story. … Bayard’s meticulous research pays off as he creates fictional inspirations behind Poe’s dark tales." Clayton Moore

Chicago Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"It is the nature of a thriller to be confusing and uncertain to its startling end revelations, and The Pale Blue Eye is true to form. … But other than in the snatches of verse, the rhythmic alarum and tension so characteristic of Poe’s writing is missing, both in dialogue and the written reports to Landor." Art Winslow

Critical Summary

Louis Bayard’s Mr. Timothy (2003) imagined Dickens’s Tiny Tim as a young adult. Pale Blue Eye mines a similar theme; this time, Bayard fictionalizes Poe’s stint at West Point. Filled with enigmatic clues, codes, cryptograms, and psychological suspense, the novel had most critics on the edge of their seats. If an outlandish climax made a few cringe, the exquisite period prose, Gothic details, and meticulous historical rendering offer an intriguing fictional backdrop to Poe’s literary inspirations. "The Pale Blue Eye lingers in the mind," notes the Rocky Mountain News, "not least because of its determination to be more than the sum of its parts."