Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard


The date is 1830, the location the new West Point Academy to train soldiers.  Life is structured here with calls to arms, marches, school, target practice and other routines.  Cadets live together, eat together and socialize.  It seems like an ordered world until the discovery of a dead cadet.  He is found hanging from a tree and at first it is considered a suicide.  Then the corpse is found mutilated, its heart carved out and gone.

The West Point administration calls on Augustus Landor who lives nearby.  He had been a renowned New York City police detective until he retired to the country for his health.  Landor reluctantly agrees to take on the case.  He starts to familiarize himself with the area and finds a cadet unlike the others.  Edgar Allen Poe is from an undistinguished family and he hasn't distinguished himself at the academy.  He is slight and is much more interested in literature and poetry than marching and soldiering.  He attaches himself to Augustus as the investigation continues becoming Landor's inside view into the barracks and cadet activity.

But the murders continue.  Soon, cadets are only sent out on patrol in pairs as terror stalks the academy.  Even those attached to the school such as the doctor are drawn in.  The doctor has a son whom Landor is not sure about and a daughter whom the cadets are all united in admiration for.  As Landor and Poe delve deeper, suspicions are everywhere.  Can they find the killers?

Louis Bayard often takes a famous individual to center his novels.  This one is currently a movie and it is happenstance that it has made its way to the top of my reading stack.  I always enjoy Bayard's writing which sets the scene perfectly and the tension he is able to bring to the tale.  The reader learns about the early days of West Point while getting a horrific tale of murder and betrayal.  This book is recommended for readers of historical and literary fiction.

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