Title: The Pale Blue Eye
Author: Louis Bayard
Page Count: 412 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery
Tone: Plot-driven, literary, intricate
Summary from publisher:
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, 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 named Edgar Allan Poe.
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
1. Was Poe what you expected? Did his character fit with what you already knew? Did Poe’s character surprise you at all?
2. Did you ever suspect or doubt Poe?
3.Did you trust Poe’s accounts? Did he embellish? Was he objective?
4.What would the story have been without Poe? Why include him? Is it a gimmick? A distraction? Is the narrative better for his inclusion? Is the story more about the mystery/investigation or more about Poe?
5. Are Landor and Poe well-matched? Do they complement each other? Are they good or bad for each other?
6. Why do you think Landor and Poe “clicked” so quickly and well?
7. Why did West Point bring Landor in? What does this reveal about the culture of West Point and about Landor? What was his style as an investigator?
8. In the development of the story, were you curious about Landor’s backstory? His private life? Was this changed at the end? In retrospect, were the clues laid?
9. Turning our attention to other characters, what did you make of Mr. Allan?
10. What do you make of each one of the Marquis family?
11. What is the significance of “the pale blue eye”? To whom does it first refer to? How about later in the story?
12. What is the allusion to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”?
13. Did the solution/revelation surprise you? Was this a satisfactory mystery?
14. What did you notice about the writing and the language? Were there times Poe/Bayard tried too hard, was too flowery, was too indirect, or did you appreciate the expressiveness, the images evoked?
15. Did the juxtaposition of language/poetry with the grisly mystery work or did it clash? Did the pacing seem uneven or not?
16. Did the historical details ring true? Were they well-chosen?
17. Is it believable that Poe would keep the secret? Do you believe he was behind Stoddard’s death?
18. Does Poe’s ordeal give him reason/foundation for rest of life’s writing?
19. Would Poe have approved of this story? Is it like him?
20. To what kind of reader would you recommend this book to?
Lit Lover’s Reading Guide
Biography of Edgar Allan Poe
West Point Military Academy history
Video of Louis Bayard describing his first two books
If you liked The Pale Blue Eye, try…
The Technologists by Matthew Pearl
Without Mercy by Lisa Jackson
The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld