Nancy Corbett

Books Read in 2007

General Fiction

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard is, like the writings of one of his characters, a tale of mystery and imagination. Set at West Point in the 19th Century, the novel has all the flavor and ambiance befitting such a setting. I love reading books that fictionalize real people. Bayard fictionalizes the leadership of West Point at that time, as well as one of the most eccentric writers in American history.

The chief investigator of this mystery/detective novel enlists one Cadet Edgar Allen Poe to assist him in his investigation. Bayard brings Poe to life to a greater extent than he does with any of his other characters. Reading the chapters of Poe's reports to Gus Landor, the chief investigator of this creepy, mysterious case, I couldn't help but think that Bayard was having a lot of fun at Poe's expense. Bayard does an excellent job of writing Poe's reports to Landor in a tongue-in-cheek faux-Poe.

Even though the story line has every creepy element conceivable, mysterious murders, hearts stolen from corpses, villains stealing through the darkness in cloaks, mysterious strangers, disappearing cadets and a graveyard of other things, whenever Poe walked off the page, it all turned dull. Bayard tried to make his protagonist interesting. Gus Landor, an ex-New York detective with a mysterious past (I'm getting tired of using the word mysterious) and a bend toward alcoholism leads the investigation. Throughout the book, Landor looked up at me from the page, wanting me to care about him. I just couldn't. He wasn't likeable or interesting.

The Pale Blue Eye feels like a guy book. If we have Chick-Lit, here is an example of Dick-Lit. Distinctive brown cover, technical tools on the cover, and mahogany tones and pipe smoke throughout. All of the women characters are difficult to bring into focus. They're silly little things, panting for attention and totally oblivious about how trivial they are. Even the one with the biggest part to play didn't place a shred of passion on the side of sanity. Landor has a cookie-cutter girl friend, a barmaid who is sleeping with scores of others. She is there so that we can have bosoms swaying to the rhythm of pot scrubbing and because we need someone who looks at him with distain and tells him to quit the case because it's killing him.

And then there's the end. Don't worry. I won't give it away. But I will tell you that there's a twist. And it's not foreshadowed to an extent where it is warranted. In other words, Bayard broke the cardinal rule of novel writing. I felt manipulated. The twist comes from so far out of the court that I was beginning to wonder if I'd get through the book without having aliens land and tell us they were just there to serve man.

But then there's Poe. He plays his part unflinchingly. The Pale Blue Eye is fun for anyone who wants to be prompted to read a biography about Poe. I know I want to get one. The details Bayard supplies about him are crisp, humorous and fascinating. Was he ever a cadet at West Point? Did he dedicate his first book of poems to the Academy because he'd manipulated the cadets into buying a copy? Considering all that the book has given me to think about, I guess I'm glad I read it. But I'm even more glad that it's over.

"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams..." Arthur O'Shaughnessy


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