Monday, March 01, 2021

Poe’s Predicament

This seems like good news! From In Reference to Murder:
Christian Bale and director Scott Cooper are set to make their third film together in Cooper’s scripted adaptation of the Louis Bayard novel, The Pale Blue Eye. The thriller revolves around the attempt to solve a series of murders that took place in 1830 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Bale will play a veteran detective who investigates the murders, helped by a detail-oriented young cadet who will later become a world-famous author, Edgar Allan Poe.
The Pale Blue Eye was one of my favorite crime/mystery novels of 2006. Here’s what I wrote about it in January Magazine:
Edgar Allan Poe has been a frequent presence in mystery and crime fiction—not just as an author (he created the detective protagonist C. Auguste Dupin for the 1841 short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”), but as a character. However, he’s rarely been interpreted as engagingly or eccentrically as Louis Bayard does in this year’s The Pale Blue Eye.

This historical whodunit is set at the West Point military academy in 1830. A young cadet has been found in the compound, hanged and mutilated, and the academy’s superintendent summons a lonely, retired and alcoholic New York City detective, Augustus “Gus” Landor, from his Hudson Valley home to investigate. Gus recognizes a cover-up when he sees one, but he doesn’t know how to get past the mutual self-protectiveness of the cadets—at least not until he takes on an assistant, the least likely military man I can imagine: the alternately poetic, macabre and romantic Poe, who has wound up at West Point in an effort to appease his foster father, John Allan. With Landor’s encouragement, the young and maverick future wordsmith tries to worm information from within the ranks, while the ex-cop works from the outside. Meanwhile, more corpses turn up, and Poe complicates the investigation by falling—fast and hard, and in a welter of purple prose—for the sister of Landor’s chief suspect in these atrocities.

Bayard, who may be most recognizable as the author of
Mr. Timothy (2003), a novel in which Charles Dickens’ Timothy “Tiny Tim” Cratchit, from A Christmas Carol, was skillfully re-imagined as a reluctant sleuth in 1860 London, delivers in The Pale Blue Eye an essentially simple plot strongest on character, and with an ending guaranteed to surprise. Bayard’s writing is appealing throughout, but most memorable in the chapters told from Poe’s perspective—a task that requires Bayard to adopt an idiosyncratic lexicon, and maintain that style over long sections. No easy task.

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