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The Mysteries of Letting Go

January 19, 2010

It is a difficult challenge to send your child out into the world, to let them go from your protection and to experience everything there is out there.  I have no clue what this is like personally.  But I tasted a little bit of the bittersweet joy of this milestone that every parent must go through this past October when I left my traveling book in a Starbucks.  Let me rewind a bit and explain.  Almost two years ago now Nikki came across a novel in Coffee Ethic in Springfield, MO.  It was a traveling book registered with Book Crossing.  Nikki brought it home to her apartment and intended to read it, but she never got very far with it.  We were dating at the time and after reading the back cover, I found myself interested.  I am a fan of mystery novels and I hadn’t picked one up in years, so I thought I would give it a try.  I will get into my review of the novel in a sec.  Fast forward a year and a half, and after reading off and on, I finally finished with it.  I enjoyed the book, it was a good story, but I knew the time had come to pass it on to someone else to enjoy.  So I chose to take it to a place where it was sure to be found, a very public place.  I chose a Starbucks in the middle of Kansas City, MO.  It was hard to let go not knowing who would find it next, if anyone would even pick it up.  What was in store for this book that had been mine for so long?  Well it has been a number of months now, and so far I have yet to find my novel registered on Book Crossing.  But it took me awhile to do it myself, so I am still holding out hope.  Someday, I may learn what happened to my book I sent off into the world.  Maybe it has gone to some exotic locales, or been read by some famous people.  I look forward to hearing all about it . . . on Book Crossing.

Review:  The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard

This book has a hook that was instantly appealing to me.  I like history.  I like mystery.  Throw them together and you have my attention.  The novel is set during the 1830’s early after the foundation of West Point Academy.  A shocking murder there draws in a retired detective to begin examining the unusual circumstances of the young cadet’s demise, with the continued fate of West Point hanging in the balance.  The bizarre twist of it all is that after he was murdered someone removed his heart.  All of that sounds pretty straight forward as a good mystery tale, but the true draw of the story is on the detective’s young apprentice, a cadet who joins him on his investigation.  A young Edgar Allan Poe.

Many are only familiar with Poe as a writer of the macabre and supernatural, but few realize that he is actually credited with the creation of the modern detective story through three short stories he wrote with the character of C. Auguste Dupin:  The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter, and The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.  The character of Dupin would have a heavy influence on Sherlock Holmes forty years later.  Here we see a young Poe still on his way to literary notoriety but already developing the eccentric behavior that would come to define him.  Bayard demonstrates a strong grasp of Poe’s history and personality, and it is in this regard that the novel truly shines brightest.  The character of Poe feels completely true to the real Poe and lends an air of realism to the events in the story.  Another high mark I give Bayard is his method for relaying the story, told entirely through journal entries and letters written by the characters themselves.  What could have been a very restrictive mode of story-telling is pulled off in a remarkably adept manner.  It allows the emotions of the characters to really rise off the page.

As a mystery-lover, well versed in the works of Doyle & Christie, the mystery itself is probably the weak link, if only for a lack of serious suspects for the crime.  That is just a personal preference, mind you, and it still certainly kept me guessing the entire time.  I never foresaw any of the twists and turns that the plot would take, and for that I respectfully acknowledge Bayard’s skill.  Not to give anything away, but the final reveal will probably come off as both shocking and brilliant if I hadn’t already seen this move once before.  Agatha Christie was renowned for this already in a story she wrote in a now classic mystery novel from the 1920’s.  If you have read that particular book, you will recognize Bayard’s work as a kind of homage/riff on what Christie did.  If you have not, you will surely never know the difference, which is just fine.

If you are interested in a good mystery, then this is a fine choice, although it did have a few scenes I could have done without.  Overall, an enjoyable read, enhanced all the more by experiences with Book Crossing.

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