When disgraced academic Henry Cavendish attends the funeral of his friend, Alonzo Wax, two stories are set in motion: a mystery about a 17th Century letter, and a love story. Bayard is completely open on page one: 1. Alonzo Wax is a sneak, liar and thief, and 2. It’s a love story. And yet the reader is surprised many times during this first-person account of the weeks following Wax’s funeral. It’s really two love stories, one from the early 1600s and one in present-day, but they are intertwined in a most interesting way. Really, it’s about death, and the transfiguration of the soul, and how we, as humans, survive in each other’s hearts even after we pass on.
A thoroughly enjoyable mystery and character study with a Roger Ackroyd-like twist at the end. Edgar Allen Poe is a cadet at West Point, perfectly situated as a keen observer, poet and outsider, to assist the ex-police detective Gus Landor in answering the question: who killed another cadet? And why remove his heart? Chapters move between Landor’s point of view and letters written by Poe. Historical detail is embedded seamlessly into scene, and the pages are awash in West Point’s chilling winter atmosphere. I was not sure about the twist, but (SPOILER ALERT) maybe that’s because Bayard was successful in creating my sympathetic attachment to Landor, making him interesting, complex and likeable, and I didn’t want to see him reduced, in the end, to a vengeful father out for blood.
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