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The Pale Blue Eye (P.S.)


The Pale Blue Eye (P.S.) Cover




Chapter One
Narrative of Gus Landor

My professional involvement in the West Point affair dates from the morning of October the twenty-sixth, 1830. On that day, I was taking my usual walk — though a little later than usual — in the hills surrounding Buttermilk Falls. I recall the weather as being Indian summer. The leaves gave off an actual heat, even the dead ones, and this heat rose through my soles and gilded the mist that banded the farmhouses. I walked alone, threading along the ribbons of hills . . . the only noises were the scraping of my boots and the bark of Dolph van Corlaer's dog and, I suppose, my own breathing, for I climbed quite high that day. I was making for the granite promontory that the locals call Shadrach's Heel, and I had just curled my arm round a poplar, preparing for the final assault, when I was met by the note of a French horn, sounding miles to the north.

A sound I'd heard before — hard to live near the Academy and not hear it — but that morning, it made a strange buzz in my ear. For the first time, I began to wonder about it. How could a French horn throw its sound so far?

This isn't the sort of matter that occupies me, as a rule. I wouldn't even bother you with it, but it goes some way to showing my state of mind. On a normal day, you see, I wouldn't have been thinking about horns. I wouldn't have turned back before reaching the summit, and I wouldn't have been so slow to grasp the wheel traces.

Two ruts, each three inches deep, and a foot long. I saw them as I was wending home, but they were thrown in with everything else: an aster, a chevron of geese. The compartments leaked, as it were, one into the other, so that I only half regarded these wheel ruts, and I never (this is unlike me) followed the chain of causes and effects. Hence my surprise, yes, to breast the brow of the hill and find, in the piazza in front of my house, a phaeton with a black bay harnessed to it.

On top was a young artilleryman, but my eye, trained in the stations of rank, had already been drawn to the man leaning against the coach. In full uniform, he was — preening as if for a portrait. Braided from head to toe in gold: gilt buttons and a gilt cord on his shako, a gilded brass handle on his sword. Outsunning the sun, that was how he appeared to me, and such was the cast of my mind that I briefly wondered if he had been made by the French horn. There was the music, after all. There was the man. A part of me, even then — I can see this — was relaxing, in the way that a fist slackens into its parts: fingers, a palm.

I at least had this advantage: the officer had no idea I was there. Some measure of the day's laziness had worked its way into his nerves. He leaned against the horse, he toyed with the reins, flicking them back and forth in an echo of the bay's own switching tail. Eyes half shut, head nodding on its stem. . . .

We might have gone on like this for some time — me watching, him being watched — had we not been interrupted by a third party. A cow. Big blowzy lashy. Coming out of a copse of sycamores, licking away a smear of clover. This cow began at once to circle the phaeton — with rare tact — she seemed to presume the young officer must have good reason for intruding. This same officer took a step backward as though to brace for a charge, and his hand, jittered, went straight to his sword handle. I suppose it was the possibility of slaughter (whose?) that finally jarred me into motion — down the hill in a long waggish stride, calling as I went.

"Her name is Hagar!"

Too well trained to whirl, this officer. He depended his head toward me in brief segments, the rest of him following in due course.

"At least, she answers to that," I said. "She got here a few days after I did. Never told me her name, so I had to give her one."

He managed something like a smile. He said, "She's a fine animal, sir."

"A republican cow. Comes as she pleases, goes the same. No obligations on either side."

"Well. There you . . . it occurs to me if . . ."

"If only all females were that way, I know."

This young man was not so young as I had thought. A couple of years on the good side of forty, that was my best guess: only a decade younger than me, and still running errands. But this errand was his one sure thing. It squared him from toe to shoulder.

"You are Augustus Landor, sir?" he asked.

"I am."

"Lieutenant Meadows, at your service."


Cleared his throat — twice, he did that. "Sir, I am here to inform you that Superintendent Thayer requests an audience with you."

"What would be the nature of this audience?" I asked.

"I'm not at liberty to say, sir."

"No, of course not. Is it of a professional order?"

"I'm not at — "

"Then might I ask when this audience is to take place?"

"At once, sir. If you're so inclined."

I confess it. The beauty of the day was never so lucid to me as at that moment. The peculiar smokiness of the air, so rare for late October. The mist, lying in drifts across the forelands. There was a woodpecker hammering out a code on a paperbark maple. Stay.

With my walking stick, I pointed in the direction of my door. "You're sure I can't fix you up with some coffee, Lieutenant?"

"No thank you, sir."

"I've got some ham for frying, if you — "

"No, I've eaten. Thank you."

I turned away. Took a step toward the house.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Virginia, January 29, 2012 (view all comments by Virginia)
I read a lot of historical fiction and/or mysteries and I had high hopes for this one but it was the worst book I read in 2011. The word tedious springs to mind. No likable characters and no feel for time or place. Ending was contrived andwent against all that had happened up to that pount.
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redrockbookworm, July 22, 2008 (view all comments by redrockbookworm)
During the hours before his death, Augustus Langor, retired former NYC detective and widower recalls the circumstances surrounding his investigation of the gruesome murder of a cadet at West Point. The year is 1830 and the institution had not yet earned the reputation it enjoys today so the powers that be engage his services in an attempt to avoid any negative publicity. During his investigation he enlists the help of Cadet Edgar Allan Poe to be his eyes and ears on campus, holding clandestine meetings with him to discuss various clues and suspects. The novels characterization of Cadet Poe is that of an overly pensive, tormented and romantic individual who is aching to "connect" with someone. This is probably an accurate depiction of the "Literary Poe" but it makes for a rather boring, "Poe the Murder Investigator".

I found the voice of this book to be rather stilted and annoying, and Landor and Poe imbued with neither compassion nor humanity.
Guess the bottom line is, even a lover of historical fiction such as myself wants more than just characters in a historical setting. I want a story with characters that draw me in and a story that fills my senses. A Pale Blue Eye left me running on empty.
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(11 of 23 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

A Novel
Bayard, Louis
Harwood, John
by Louis Bayard
William Morrow Paperbacks
Mystery & Detective - Historical
General Fiction
New york (state)
Historical fiction
Mystery fiction
Readers - Beginner
Mystery Historical
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from K to 3
8 x 5.31 in 0.46 lb
Age Level:
from 4 to 8

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » Historical

The Pale Blue Eye (P.S.) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$14.99 In Stock
Product details 448 pages Harper Perennial - English 9780060733988 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[A]nother literary tour de force....At novel's end, the reader may want to start again from the beginning."
"Review" by , "[T]his period mystery moves methodically to the suspects, the motives, and the clues that twist and turn like the Hudson itself. The novel is further charmed by a skillful and lyrical writing style and the intrigue of West Point, now and then."
"Review" by , "Louis Bayard is a writer of remarkable gifts: for language, for imagination, for that mysterious admixture of audacity and craftsmanship that signals a major talent in the making."
"Review" by , "Louis Bayard...turns from Charles Dickens to Edgar Allan Poe with debonair wit....[S]ucceed[s] by emulating the suspense structure of Poe's exquisitely lurid short stories and...adding the romanticism of Poe's lyric poetry. (Grade: B+)"
"Review" by , "A first-rate thriller with language that sparkles on the page."
"Review" by , "Mr. Bayard has a gift for Poe mimicry and, as well, for constructing a labyrinthine plot. The story's climax is a parody of author Poe's nightmarish flourishes."
"Synopsis" by , "A deliciously spooky pastiche of the high and low Gothic traditions and the tender heroines who live and die by them."

—New York Times Book Review

"Synopsis" by ,
“Harwood, master of creeping Victorian horror, does it again . . . Twisted in every sense of the word and wonderfully atmospheric.”—Booklist

Confused and disoriented, Georgina Ferrars awakens in a small room in Tregannon House, a remote asylum in England. She has no memory of the past few weeks. The doctor, Maynard Straker, tells her that she admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton, then suffered a seizure. When she insists he has mistaken her for someone else, Dr. Straker sends a telegram to her uncle, who replies that Georgina Ferrars is at home with him in London: “Your patient must be an imposter.” Suddenly her voluntary confinement becomes involuntary. Who is the woman in her uncles house? Georginas perilous quest to free herself takes us from a cliffside cottage on the Isle of Wight to the secret passages of Tregannon House and into a web of hidden family ties on which her survival depends.

“Redolent with a sense of foreboding . . . This gothic tale will sweep you up into the very heart of Victorian England. A splendid read!”—Historical Novel Society, Editors Choice

“A richly textured . . . [and] masterfully constructed narrative . . . Readers are guaranteed a thoroughly diverting time in Harwoods not-to-be-trusted hands.”—The Independent (UK)

“The crisp prose and twisty plot will encourage many to read this in one sitting.”—Publishers Weekly

"Synopsis" by , At West Point Academy in 1830, the calm of an October evening is shattered by the discovery of a young cadet's body swinging from a rope. The next morning, an even greater horror comes to light. Someone has removed the dead man's heart. Augustus Landor—who acquired some renown in his years as a New York City police detective—is called in to discreetly investigate. It's a baffling case Landor must pursue in secret, for the scandal could do irreparable damage to the fledgling institution. But he finds help from an unexpected ally—a moody, young cadet with a penchant for drink, two volumes of poetry to his name, and a murky past that changes from telling to telling. The strange and haunted Southern poet for whom Landor develops a fatherly affection, is named Edgar Allan Poe.
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