The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe

Firstly, I was amazed by how similar the detective’s methods were to Sherlock Holmes’ and, I have to admit, this made me quite disillusioned with the great Conan Doyle as I’d always thought of his detective as completely ground-breaking and unique – obviously not. Dupin, Poe’s detective, is the inspiration (and, dare I say it, copy) for Sherlock in the way he forms his deductions and the way he begins with a clue seemingly meaningless that everyone else has overlooked and then follows the trail along from this and arrives at the remarkable solution. Poe’s writing is so very clever and I am full of admiration and respect.

There are three short stories within this book, all very different to each other; Murder in the Rue Morgue is quite a gruesome tale; The Mystery of Marie Roget is quite a fascinating one as it is a true-life murder that Poe altered slightly to turn into fiction; and the Purloined Letter is different again as there is no murder but just the skill of the letter thief matched against the skill of Dupin in his attempts to discover where the stolen letter is hidden. (The fact that The Mystery of Marie Roget was a true story that Poe was almost putting forward a solution to, I found reminded me again of an interesting similarity to Conan Doyle as people used to write asking him for help in solving true-life crimes and he often read about true cases in the newspapers that he felt he could solve, such as The Great Wyrely Outrages when he defended George Edalji (detailed in the book Arthur & George by Julian Barnes)).

I can only imagine the stunned and enthusiastic response of the public on first reading these stories – the very first detective stories. I was amazed by them now after having read many detective stories and being fully familiar with the concept of a detective and the fictional methods they employ – this must have been revolutionary to the reading public of the time and I envy them their experience. Just as when I read The Mysteries of Uldopho (recognised as the first Gothic novel, just as Edgar Allan Poe’s book is recognised as the first detective novel), I felt like I was going back in time and was reading something very precious indeed and was fascinated by how powerful a book this was and what an important influence it had had.

I can see that, although this book is ground-breaking, other detective books that followed it were more refined and perhaps better written and had more two-way conversations, whereas Dupin just seems to be lecturing the reader and I found the start of the book and its lengthy description of chess a little difficult to wade through – these are similar to my feelings with (again, but the comparison is understandable, I feel) The Mysteries of Uldopho which is very slow in parts. However, these are just the quibbles of a modern reader used to a different style of book and are insignificant compared to the overall admiration and enjoyment I got from the book.

I was interested in the fact that the narrator was, and remained, nameless and I found this quite unusual and intriguing. I was also interested in the fact that all three of the short stories in this book detailed women in distress although all of them were very different stories – perhaps this is a sign of the time it was written in.

The copy of the book I have (published by Vintage Classics) gives information about Poe and his career, which I found very interesting. It also gives an excerpt from even earlier detective stories by Voltaire and others, which were also fascinating to read.

Murders in the Rue Morgue
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