The story is set in the year 1830 in the Hudson Valley region of New York. The protagonist is a retired detective; Augustus Landor. He lives alone in his house and does nothing but drink.
This is because his wife passed away due to an illness some years ago and his daughter has disappeared since some months. One morning, as he is chilling by the river, a military officer; Captain Hitchcock approaches him and mentions that his senior wants to meet him.
Landor, who doesn’t like leaving his house, refuses to go, but when Hitchcock stresses that the matter is urgent, he agrees. Along the way, they talk about Landor’s past achievements.
It turns out that he is one of the best detectives in the country, with a 100% success rate. He has always solved the mystery he has been assigned to. Soon, they arrive at a military academy, and head straight into superintendent Thayer’s office.
The latter knows Landor so well that he is aware of his wife’s death and daughter’s disappearance. After expressing his condolences, he gets straight to the point and reveals that one of their military soldiers; Cadet Leroy Fry, was found dead.
Everyone suspects that he committed the unthinkable, but a few things suggest otherwise. Someone approached Fry after his death, cut open his body with precision, and took his heart away. After explaining all this, Thayer requests Landor to find the culprit and bring him to light.
The detective agrees and immediately gets to work. He, along with Hitchcock visit the morgue and meet with Doctor Daniel, the same doctor who conducted Fry’s autopsy. Daniel mentions that he has already checked the corpse thoroughly but couldn’t find anything suspicious.
However, when Landor performs a basic checkup, he finds a bruise behind Fry’s head and a torn piece of paper in his hand. This makes him conclude that Fry didn’t commit the unthinkable, but someone killed him on purpose.
Landor tries his best to decipher the meaning in the torn piece of paper but to no avail. Only a few words are written, and guessing the exact sentence is near to impossible. Before he leaves the academy, Hitchcock warns him to keep the ongoing investigation a secret.
Later, Landor visits the place where Fry’s body was found and starts investigating. Right then, a Cadet named Edgar Ellen Poe approaches him and says that he believes Fry was killed by a poet. This is because he himself is a poet, who is aware of the art of extracting someone’s heart out of their body.
Landor obviously does not believe in this, so Edgar gives him another clue. He says that a few days before Fry was killed, he had a fight with his roommates. In the next scene, Landor heads to the academy and interrogates a few cadets with the permission of Hitchock.
However, none of them state anything that can help with the case. Ater the interrogation ends, an officer arrives there with a note for Hitchcock. The latter reads it and gets taken aback.
It turns out that a cow and a sheep have been killed in similar fashion. Their hearts have been taken out after strandlig them to death. It is evident that the killer is warning them to stop the investigation. However, this only makes Landor more focused on finding the killer.
So, he heads straight to Edgar and asks his help to decipher the message written on the piece of paper he found in Fry’s hand. Although Edgar is only a trainee, who is not allowed to interact with outsiders, he agrees to help. And surprisingly, the same evening, he comes up with an answer.
He visits Landor at his house and explains that although he cannot say what the entire note said, the last paragraph mentioned ‘Don’t be late’. This means that the killer had invited Fry to a location. After a bit of discussion, the two come to the conclusion that the note was written by a woman.
This is because a cadet like Fry would have no purpose meeting a man outside late at night. Just then, Edgar remembers seeing a beautiful woman outside the military base on the day the murder was committed.
The following day, Landor sends a note to Edgar, asking him to meet him at an ice house near Lake Courage. Without wasting any time, Edgar arrives there and finds Landor inspecting an old abandoned house. Inside, he notices a circle and a triangle drawn on the floor and assumes that someone conducted a ritual there.
He also mentions that the performers placed Fry’s heart in between the shapes and performed black magic. As the house belongs to the doctor; Daniel’s son Artemus, Landor now suspects that Artemus did all this.
However, to learn more about black magic, he takes Edgar to meet one of his special friends;John, who is an expert in such topics. They provide him with diagrams of the strange shapes, and John immediately deduces that it is a special kind of black magic ritual, performed to be immortal.
He also mentions that to conduct it, one needs a heart of an unbaptized child and one of a man who died from hanging. Hearing all this, Landor asks Edgar to befriend Artemus and try to extract more information from him.
The cadet agrees and starts meeting Artemus on a regular basis. Surprisingly, they become good friends. One night, Edgar gathers with Artemus and his friends for some drinks. From their conversation, he learns that Fry was in a relationship with Artemus’ beautiful sister; Lea.
Many believe that he committed the unthinkable after she ditched him. Elsewhere, Landor gets a vision of his lost daughter and starts panicking. It is clear that he still hasn’t got over that tragedy.
The next morning, the murdered cadet’s funeral is finally conducted. As Landor pays his respects, he is approached by Fry’s mother; who hands him Fry’s diary. She wants him to have it, so that he can find the real culprit.
She also mentions that everything in the diary is written in a cryptographic language and she does not understand any of it. Later, while returning home, Landor runs into Daniel and his wife, Wiley, and tells them that he will not stop until he finds the killer and punishes him.
When Wiley asks him about his wife, Landor replies to her that she died two years ago. Elsewhere, Edgar goes to Artemus’ house to find more about him. But he is immediately distracted when he hears Lea playing the piano.
Since she also loves poetry, the two get to talking and become attracted to one another. Before he leaves, Edgar invites Lea to meet him outside the following day, to which she agrees. In the next scene, the two meet at a cemetery and begin expressing their feelings.
Edgar states that he is greatly attracted by her beauty and her charm. When it's Lea’s turn, she unexpectedly suffers from a seizure and falls to the ground. Luckily, she soon recovers and Edger accompanies her back home.
Meanwhile, Landor tears out the papers from Fry’s personal diary and successfully extracts some information from it. At night, as Edgar is working alone, a fellow Cadet and Artemus’ friend, Ballinger, attacks him from behind and beats him up badly.
Fortunately, Landor arrives there in the nick of time and saves Edgar before he is killed. The next day, Landor gets to know that Ballinger is missing, and later, finds his body hanging in the woods, with his heart removed.
However, this time, Daniel takes a closer look at Ballinger’s body and reveals that the person who removed his heart is different from the one in Fry’s case. The cutting is not as precise and accurate this time.
Hearing this, the high ranking officials get angry, and they ask Landor to solve the case as soon as possible. For starters, they want him to interrogate Edgar, as he is the most mysterious and cunning person at the camp.
When Landor refuses to comply, Hitchcock reveals that Edgar recently fought with both the murder victims; Fry and Ballinger. This surprises Landor as his poet buddy had never mentioned about it. So, he meets Edgar outside and asks if he’s hiding something.
The latter confirms to have fought with them, because they constantly bullied him for his appearance and habits. However, he didn’t kill them. Edgar explains that if he were to kill everyone he has a problem with, there would be less than a dozen Cadets left.
Seeing his innocent face, Landor is convinced so he walks away without asking anything more. One night, the two are invited to Daniel’s place for dinner, which they accept. While they are eating, Landor finds Wiley very anxious and scared, as if she is hiding something.
After dinner, he talks to Daniel privately and inquires if something is wrong with his daughter. The doctor reveals that Lea is suffering from a rare disorder that gives her frequent seizures. The sad thing is that there is no cure for it.
Right then, Hitchcock arrives there and informs them that another cadet, Stoddard, is missing. This alarms Landor so he immediately goes to check the cadet’s personal room.
They do not find anything there, so Landor suspects that Stoddard got involved in some shady business alongside Fry and Ballinger, that’s why they are being hunted.
But since the body hasn’t been found, it is possible that he has simply run away. Following this, Landor goes to his wizard friend; John and asks him about the witch hunter that he mentioned before.
John brings out a picture of it, explaining that he is the one who wrote the book containing the procedures to become immortal. As soon as Landor sees the picture, he remembers seeing it at Daniel’s house and immediately heads toward there.
Meanwhile, Lea and Artemus have captured Edgar and are about to perform the same ritual as they did with Fry’s heart. Shortly after, Landor arrives at Daniel’s house and confronts him about the witch hunter and his daughter’s illness.
Having been caught red handed, the doctor accepts his mistake and reveals that after he failed to treat his daughter, he was forced to follow the path of witch-hunting to keep Lea alive. However, he mentions that his wife, daughter, and his son are mainly involved in the process.
Even now, they are about to sacrifice Edgar for the cause. Hearing this, Landor gets terrified and rushes towards the abandoned house. Fortunately, he reaches there in the nick of time, right before Lea and Artemus can cut through Edgar.
While Landor is relieved, Lea becomes enraged and starts spilling oil everywhere, igniting a large fire. Artemus uses this opportunity to fight Landor so that his sister can continue the ritual. But sadly, while she is at it, a large wooden pole falls on her, knocking her unconscious.
Artemus rushes to save her, but both of them get trapped inside the fire. Before the entire cottage collapses, Landor grabs Wiley and Edgar and leaves the place.
The following day, with Edgar in the hospital, the superintendent officer praises Landor for his service, believing that the case has finally been solved. Hitchcock also thanks Landor and apologizes for misbehaving with him at times. After a few weeks have passed, Edgar completely recovers and visits Landor at his house.
Surprisingly, he has found out something shocking. He mentions that after examining the handwriting on the note fragment in Fry's possession and on the note that he received from Landor, he found that they were identical.
By connecting all the dots in the evidence he has obtained, it is clear that Landor was responsible for the cadets' deaths. Edgar then presents his findings and tells Landor that from a lady at the tavern, he got to know about his daughter, Mathilde.
This is when Landor accepts his crimes and finally reveals everything. It turns out that, two years prior, after attending her first ball dance party, Mathilde was returning home alone when she was violated by Fry, Ballinger, and Stoddard.
Although she survived, the incident traumatized her so badly that she committed the unthinkable from a cliff. Landor witnessed the whole incident and tried his best to stop her, but to no avail.
As the days passed by, Landor hid this information from everyone and lied that she had fled. But because Mathilde suffered and died right in front of his eyes, he wanted to take revenge. So, he approached Fry, lured him with a message, and took him to a deserted area.
There, he brutally finished him off and made the scene look as if the victim had committed the unthinkable. After he left, Lea and Artemus extracted Fry’s heart for their ritual. When Edgar asks him how he found out about Ballinger, Landor replies that he got to know from Fry’s personal diary.
So, at an opportune moment, he murdered Ballinger and dismembered his body to give the impression that the cadet had been killed by the same killer who had disfigured Fry's body. This is the reason why Doctor Daniel found both incisions to be different.
Finally, Landor believes that Stoddard has run away due to the fear of being killed. He might have escaped but will have to live out the rest of his life in fear. Landor took part in the investigation because he didn’t want anyone to suspect him.
He also wanted to know who extracted Fry’s heart. In the final scene, Landor tells Edgar that he can go and tell the authorities that he is the real killer. However, the poet refuses, saying what he did was understandable. Criminals like Fry and Ballinger deserve nothing less than what they got.
Saying this, Edgar burns down the notes and hence erases the evidence that could have got the detective arrested. Edgar then leaves, but not before telling Landor that he really treasures the moments they spent together.
The Story ends with Landor walking to the edge of the same cliff from where his daughter committed the unthinkable. He lets her hair ribbon float away saying ‘Rest my love’.
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