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The Pale Blue Eye: A Novel [Paperback]

Louis Bayard

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Book Description

May 31 2007 P.S.

At West Point Academy in 1830, the calm of an October evening is shattered by the discovery of a young cadet's body swinging from a rope. The next morning, an even greater horror comes to light. Someone has removed the dead man's heart. Augustus Landor—who acquired some renown in his years as a New York City police detective—is called in to discreetly investigate. It's a baffling case Landor must pursue in secret, for the scandal could do irreparable damage to the fledgling institution. But he finds help from an unexpected ally—a moody, young cadet with a penchant for drink, two volumes of poetry to his name, and a murky past that changes from telling to telling. The strange and haunted Southern poet for whom Landor develops a fatherly affection, is named Edgar Allan Poe.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Avon; Reprint edition (May 31 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060733985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060733988
  • Product Dimensions: 20.5 x 13.4 x 2.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #264,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bayard follows Mr. Timothy (2003), which brilliantly imagined the adult life of Dickens's Tiny Tim, with another tour-de-force, an intense and gripping novel set during Edgar Allan Poe's brief time as a West Point cadet. In 1830, retired New York City detective Gus Landor is living a quiet life at his Hudson Valley cottage, tormented by an unspecified personal sorrow, when Superintendent Thayer summons him to West Point to investigate the hanging and subsequent mutilation of a cadet. Poe aids Landor by serving as an inside source into the closed world of the academy, though Poe's personal involvement with a suspect's sister complicates their work. But the pair find themselves helpless to prevent further outrages; the removal of the victims' hearts suggests that a satanic cult might be at work. This beautifully crafted thriller stands head and shoulders above other recent efforts to fictionalize Poe.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“Shockingly clever and devoutly unsentimental...reads like a lost classic. Bayard reinvigorates historical fiction.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Another literary tour de force.…At novel’s end, the reader may want to start again from the beginning.” (Kirkus Reviews (Starred))

“(A) tour-de-force…intense and gripping …(a) beautifully crafted thriller ” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Ingenious...with a rich knowledge of Poe’s life and work.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“Seemlessly blends Poe into an engrossing whodunit worthy of its inspiration. ” (USA Today)

“Exquisitely rendered character study, imaginatively Gothic, compelling.” (Miami Herald)

“Gracefully written...Bayard’s prose flows like silk, weightless but enveloping, and never shows its seams. (Salon.com)

“Bayard has produced a nuanced, wonderfully written tale, one worthy of the old master himself.” (Baltimore Sun)

“An uncanny and original portrait. Captures the imagination with exquisite details and a compelling, disquieting story.” (Denver Rocky Mountain News)

“Gruesomely entertaining.” (New York Times)

“Full of delightfully unexpected twists that continue to the very last pages of the novel.” (Denver Post)

“Brilliantly plotted and completely absorbing, ending with the kind of shock that few novelists are able to deliver.” (Sunday Times (London))

“What makes this more than a well-crafted thriller…is Bayard’s gift for language. He paints incredibly vivid pictures.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“Poe, an exacting critic...would have been impressed by Bayard’s intelligence and fluidity as a writer.” (Oregonian)

“A superb, lyrically written yarn. Deft and delicious.” (Providence Journal)

“Well-wrought and suspenseful.“ (Buffalo News)

“Finely executed prose…An exquisitely rendered character study, imaginatively gothic, compelling.” (Memphis Commercial Appeal)

“Skillful...lyrical...Moves methodically to the suspects, the motives, and the clues that twist and turn like the Hudson itself.” (Library Journal)

“Worthy of...high praise.” (Bookreporter.com)

“This book has it all--prose, plot and a terrifying conclusion...it will have you guessing to the very end.” (Hamilton Spectator (Canada))

“A rich and finely wrought psychological study that is a fitting tribute to Poe himself.” (The Straits Times (Singapore))

“Recommended. This novel is moody and rich in historic detail.” (Tucson Citizen)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  84 reviews
60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Stunner. Read this book. June 7 2006
By sb-lynn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Summary, no spoilers:

This is the story of former New York police detective Augustus Landor and his investigation of a macabre murder at West Point Academy in 1830.

Landor selects (eccentric) cadet Edgar Allan Poe to assist him, and the two of them work against time to prevent further murders which could result in the closure of West Point.

Along the way we meet the mysterious Marquis family - with their beautiful daughter Lea, destined to play an important role in this drama. This novel is full of intrique and mystery - and everyone is suspect.

First of all, let me say that this was not a quick read for me. I can usually read a book like this in a day, but this took me a while. This is not a book you can skim; nor is it a book you would want to rush.

Also, if you think having Edgar Allan Poe as a character would be problematic for you, don't be concerned. It's a brilliant choice, and it doesn't detract from the story at all. If anything, when you finish the book, you want to seek out some of Poe's poems and stories.

The writing is just terrific. The characters are wonderfully alive, and when I finished the book I was sorry to see them go.

This novel is moody, funny at times, and very very clever.

I highly recommend this novel to everyone, but especially to those of you who like "twists". Without saying more, be sure to read this book to the very end. I am usually disappointed with book endings, but this one was a stunner.

Bravo.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly Brilliant Dec 3 2006
By Louis Barbarelli - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I won't go into plot details. Most of the other reviews have already done that. I will say that this guy Louis Bayard is one terrific writer. In comparing this book, for example, to Matthew Pearl's also brilliant "The Poe Shadow," I find Bayard to be every bit as capable at crafting period details, celebrity recreations, turns of phrase, and stunning narrative as Mr. Pearl. Yet Bayard is the more lively, imaginative, entertaining and readable author.

I also felt that Bayard fashioned a convincing Edgar Allan Poe and many of the scenes involving him evoked the novel's most touching moments. Bayard did him justice as a man, though maybe not quite as a writer.

Having said these positive things, I must also confess that my assessment of Bayard's book is that the group of reviewers who gave it two stars for being partially hokey and the group that gave it four or even five stars for being generally brilliant... were both right. The problem is that neither group takes both good and bad aspects into consideration in judging the book as a whole: it is a brilliant work of fiction that, particularly at one point, seems to suddenly collapse into pulpy teenage fiction, then rights itself. You may temporarily feel betrayed as a reader by that sudden collapse. Or you may feel permanently betrayed by it. To me, the overall experience of the book was a good one and I will definitely be buying Bayard's other mystery, "Mr. Timothy."
45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Poe-tential classic! May 24 2006
By James Hiller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When I first tried to read Louis Bayard's book, "Mr. Timothy", for some reason, it didn't resonate with me initially. I gave it the usual 50 pages, and then, put it down when I wasn't hooked. Flash forward a year later, and I pick up the book again to try it. I couldn't put it down. Bayard's recreation of Timothy's London was gripping, the plot amazing, and the characters will formed.

When I learned of his new book, "Pale Blue Eye", I found myself standing in line to purchase this one. I know little of famed author of E. A. Poe, only that he's known for writing spooky stories and was a bit of a lush. I'm proud to report that there was abolutely no problem getting into his second book, and I daresay, it surpasses Mr. Timothy in both style, plot, and intrigue!

The story starts with a "suicide", a gruff, retired police chief named Augustus Landor (for some reason, his name resonates with me), and a very young Poe, who is obviously brilliant and obviously struggling with alcohol. The two team up to unravel this mystery, and what a ride it is.

I found myself entranced by Bayard's words and writing, once again. He sets scenes simply, with rich detail, that makes visualizing the content rich and easy. His characters are drawn well, very complex, and somewhat surprising. Fans of both mysteries and Poe will find this book well worth their time, plus anyone who loves historical novels.

Another book has been published dealing with Poe. Perhaps this is the time for Poe to re-emerge from the shadows and rightfully take his place among the panethon of American literary phenomenons. Perhaps we'll see him more than a tragic figure. Bayard's book certainly whets the appetite for that movement forward!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and extraordinary and every other superlative March 27 2007
By Michael K. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It probably would come as a surprise to high school students writing their book reports on "The Tell-Tale Heart" that its author, Edgar Allan Poe, had risen to the rank of sergeant in the U.S. Army back in the 1820s, and then spent a little time as a plebe at West Point -- before orchestrating his own dismissal in disgust. This engrossing novel takes that odd connection and casts the twenty-one-year-old Poe as a sort of assistant detective, helping a retired New York City constable investigate a series of highly gothic murders at the Military Academy. Augustus Landor, the aging cop, is called in to conduct a quiet investigation by Superintendent Sylvanus Thayer and Commandant Ethan Allen Hitchcock, because the Academy is already in danger of being shut down by President Jackson and a hostile Congress. While acting as Landor's eyes and ears in the corps of cadets, Poe falls heavily for Lea Marquis, daughter of the school's physician. But Lea (who appears in Poe's poems as "Leonore" . . .) and her brother, Artemus -- a firstclassman -- have their own problems and Landor and his Romantic helper, naturally, get caught up in them. Even without its riveting plot, however, this book would fascinate if only because of its style. Landor comes across as an intelligent but plain-spoken, almost artless man -- until the last chapter, anyway. But no one would ever call Poe "artless." Bayard's masterful use of language brings out the young poet's personality beautifully, showing us just how profoundly literate a person he was. The supporting characters are all fully realized, as well -- my favorite being Benny Havens, the legendary innkeeper and bartender, and his principle helper, Patsy. And I guarantee you will NEVER be able to predict the ending!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Caught Me Completely By Surprise Aug. 27 2006
By Timothy Haugh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I very much enjoyed Mr. Bayard's last novel, Mr. Timothy, where he gives us a story of what might have happened when Dickens' Tiny Tim grows up. In his new novel, The Pale Blue Eye, we get a story of what might have happened when Edgar Allen Poe was a young man. It turns out, this is an even better novel.

Once again, Mr. Bayard shows himself to be extremely adept at creating a character based on what can be gleaned through works of fiction. I found his grown-up Tiny Tim to be very believable and I certainly had no problem believing in his young Poe. As a huge Dickens and Poe fan, this was very important to me and Mr. Bayard satisfied my expectations completely.

In this novel, however, Mr. Bayard tacks a little differently than in Mr. Timothy and these differences are all for the better. First, though a major character, Poe really plays a supporting role here and we often get him through letters he writes, allowing his distinctive prose to make its way effectively into this novel. The narrator and lead character of this novel is, in fact, Augustus Landor, a former New York City police detective who has retired to the Hudson Highlands. When a bizarre murder takes place at West Point (where Poe is a cadet), Landor is called in to investigate the case. He is at least as compelling and interesting as Poe.

But most importantly for me is the fact that the ending of this novel surprised me completely without seeming to be far fetched. The reason I find most mystery/thrillers to be merely OK is that they are basically predictable and I am rarely fooled by the "mystery." In this novel I thought I had a pretty good handle on what was going on but the reality underlying everything caught me completely off guard.

Mr. Bayard is clearly an excellent writer who has no trouble carrying us along on an historical adventure like he has in his past couple novels. Even without a great ending it would be worth the trip because the road has enough twists and turns and is "well paved" enough to keep us going. It is the ending here that takes this book to another level--one well worth reaching.

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