Where Detective Fiction all Began

“The analytical power should not be confounded with simple ingenuity; for while the analyst is necessarily ingenious, the ingenious man is often remarkably incapable of analysis. The constructive or combining power, by which ingenuity is usually manifested, and to which the phrenologists (I believe erroneously) have assigned a separate organ, supposing it a primitive faculty, has been so frequently seen in those whose intellect bordered otherwise upon idiocy, as to have attracted general observation among writers on morals. Between ingenuity and the analytic ability there exists a difference far greater, indeed, than that between the fancy and the imagination, but of a character very strictly analogous. It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.”

-Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue

While Edgar Allan Poe is best-known for his poetry (such as The Raven) and Gothic-style tales of the macabre, he has penned lesser-known — yet influential — works, such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue. These stories have influenced authors like Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie; without them, Sherlock Holmes ans Hercule Poirot would not have been created. Although Rue Morgue isn’t the first detective story, it is arguably the most famous and influential. This has earned Poe the appellation “the inventor of detective fiction.” Unlike how Sherlock Holmes appeared in over fifty stories and helped popularize the detective fiction genre, C. Auguste Dupin — the protagonist of Rue Morgue — appeared in purely three stories and, hereat, is not as popular. Nevertheless, these three stories have made a significant impact on detective fiction today.

The first story, also dubbed The Murders in the Rue Morgue, introduces Dupin and his first mystery. Introduced as a poor man from an old family who lives in a degenerate, Gothic mansion bursting with books, he is shown to have a very shrewd mind based on logic. One day, and quite incidentally, he and his friend, the narrator, learn of a gruesome mystery, where an apartment was found terribly devastated. An old lady was discovered decapitated by a razor and her daughter was discovered stuffed upside-down in a chimney. Neither the suspects nor the motive is known, and this mystery acutely perplexes the police. However, nothing stops Dupin from exploiting his logic-driven mind to solve this mystery.

The second story, dubbed The Mystery of Marie Roget, is based on an actual murder mystery. It starts with the death of Marie Roget, a perfume shop employee, whose body is found in the Seine River. This mystery receives great attention in the press, and Dupin uses various newspaper accounts ascertain the particulars of the murder. Using his skills of reasoning, he is able to determine how the murder was committed — and how to locate the murderer.

The third and final story, dubbed The Purloined Letter, is not a murder mystery. In this story, Dupin receives a visit from the Prefect of the Police about a theft mystery: a letter has been stolen from a woman by a minister who is using it to blackmail her. The letter apparently contains compromising information. The Prefect shares his thoughts on the mystery and says that the police has searched every inch of the minister’s apartment to no avail. It’s up to Dupin to discover the whereabouts of the letter by using his logic-oriented mind.

The Murders of Rue Morgue is filled with plenty of dialogue; therefore, there isn’t much information about the characters. However, these stories are mostly about Dupin’s methods of solving mysteries rather than his character. In addition, Poe’s writing style is very attractive and flows very smoothly. The potent presence of suspense coupled with Poe’s writing style will, within minutes, have you engrossed in the stories as you follow Dupin as he solves the mysteries.

I would recommend these stories to people who like detective fiction, Edgar Allan Poe, classic world literature, and American literature. Poe’s wonderful stories of the application of logic to solving mysteries is sure to find a home in any reader. I read the Modern Library Classics edition edited with an introduction by Matthew Pearl. It also features a few annotations to elucidate parts of the text, a feature that I found nifty. The bonus, though, is the appendix called “The Earliest Detectives,” which contains excerpts from detective stories that predate Rue Morgue. These excerpts are excellent and show that detective stories existed even before Sherlock Holmes and Dupin. All in all, this is a solid edition of three revolutionary stories.

Click here to buy Poe’s revolutionary novel.

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4 Replies to “Where Detective Fiction all Began”

    1. Me too! It fascinates me that “Rue Morgue” was the precursor of Sherlock Holmes stories, yet I’ve never heard of it till I saw it in the library (quite accidentally, should I add)!

      Thanks for the comment and happy reading!

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