An apparent suicide is discovered outside the parade grounds of West Point in 1830. A cadet has hung himself from a tree. To add insult to injury, someone sneaks into the coroner's and steals the dead cadet's heart.
In an effort to quietly and discreetly solve the mystery of who would commit such a ghoulish wrong on the dead, West Point Superintendent Sylvanus Thayer calls on Augustus "Gus" Landor, a former constable, to investigate the crime. Landor, being an outsider, needs to find an assistant who can penetrate the West Point code but who isn't a suspect and won't look suspicious in his inquiries. So Gus turns to Edgar Allan Poe.
Louis Bayard has a very rare skill. He manages to blend the literary, the mysterious and suspenseful, the historical and the comical altogether in a most effective combination. The euphonious language may at first deceive readers into thinking the plot's pacing will be slow, but it's quite the contrary. Bayard has constructed a murder mystery that only continues to gather layers and momentum as the story unfolds. Red herrings abound, teasing the reader to follow, daring him/her to just try to put the book down.
The dialogue in THE PALE BLUE EYE resonates with the time period and the characteristics of the speakers, but it is also sharp and witty. Bayard's portrayal of Poe through his language is deliciously priceless: he's at time sympathetic, at times unintentionally comical and always passionate.
The characters populating THE PALE BLUE EYE exude depth and realism, while remaining constructs of their author's imagination. I personally found myself talking to them: "get a grip," "no, don't do it," "awwww!" Those kinds of responses, whether positive or negative, are elicited by the characters who provoke our ardor. Bayard and his characters are excellent provocateurs.
I listened to THE PALE BLUE EYE on audio, which was an exceptional treat. Charles Leggett narrated Bayard's work with panache. His reading epitomizes what a great audiobook does. Leggett embodies each of the characters through their unique mannerisms, tones, and dialects. The demanding presence of Commandant Ethan Allen Hitchcock leaves even the reader a bit intimidated, while Poe's starry-eyed infatuation is cute and Landor's weariness lamentable. Bayard's wit comes through in Leggett's interpretation of the work, leaving the reader chuckling or even laughing out loud. And he seems to flow effortlessly through the various East Coast dialects spoken by the cast.
I believe that certain books should at be experienced on audio at least once. The beauty of the language, when performed well, is simply magical. THE PALE BLUE EYE read by Charles Leggett is one of these books.
THE PALE BLUE EYE is available in trade paper from Harper Perennial (ISBN: 978-0060733988) and on audio from AudioGo (previously BBC America) (ISBN: 978-0792742371).