Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review: "The Pale Blue Eye"

Louis Bayard's The Pale Blue Eye (HarperCollins, 2006) is a detective story much like Poe's own, but instead of being authored by Poe, this one features him as a major character. Cadets are being murdered at West Point, and their fellow-cadet Poe joins forces with a washed-up (but quite skilled) old constable (that would be one Gus Landor) brought in by Point commanders to solve the case before more cadets meet an early and quite grisly end.

Bayard's grasp of language, expertly displayed in Mr. Timothy and in his more recent The Black Tower, is put to excellent use here as well; he captures mid-19th century lingo quite nicely. The characters, while a bit boilerplate at times, are mostly well-drawn and believable. Bayard tries perhaps a bit too hard with his portrayal of Poe, which I found a bit too 'deep' at times.

The plot carries the characters along very well, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the last pages. One of my criteria for declaring a mystery story good is if I haven't figured out the ending before I get there, and I wasn't even close with this one. Another of those criteria is that I don't roll my eyes at the final, unexpected plot twist, and I didn't have cause to do that this time either (the last twist of the knife is just too sad for any such response).

A good read. Poe would be proud.

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