The Pale Blue Eye

Written by Louis Bayard
Review by Sarah Cuthbertson

‘April 19, 1831. In two or three hours… I’ll be dead.’ What an opening!

Gus Landor is a New York City police constable living in retirement in New York State, alone since the death of his daughter. When a cadet is found hanged at the nearby West Point Military Academy, Landor is called in to solve the case. But no sooner has he begun his investigation than the corpse vanishes, only to reappear with the heart expertly cut out. Landor acquires an assistant in the form of cadet Edgar Allan Poe, who shows a flair for detective work and who relishes the menacing atmosphere surrounding an increasingly macabre sequence of events.

This is crime fiction of a high order. The detectives are an intriguingly odd couple, Poe being a callow romantic while the more prosaic Landor comes across as an appealing sleuth, perceptive, intelligent, wryly humorous – and haunted by a mysterious tragedy. Bayard has captured the elegant writing style of the period without compromising his mastery of pace and tension as the mystery deepens. And just when the case appears to be resolved there’s a shocking twist that I, for one, didn’t see coming.

I’m not a big fan of detective fiction, but if there were more crime novels as thrilling and satisfying as this, I’d rapidly be converted!