Book name: The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Publisher: Graham’s Magazine
Format: ebook, print
Genre: Murder mystery
Publication Date: 1841
I love Edgar Allan Poe, and one of my favourite works is his murder mystery story The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
It has been claimed as the first modern detective story, and when you look at how the genre has developed in the last 180 years you can see why it is very often called that.
The first-person narrator and his close friend C Auguste Dupin share a rundown old house in Paris, trying to save money by finding books in cheap sales and never going anywhere much.
They interrupt their reclusive existence with a nightly walk, and largely spend their days reading or sleeping.
Salacious reports of two violent murders in the newspaper draws their attention to the death of Mme and Mlle L'Espanaye, who also lived a live of excessive retirement.
The witness testimony is published for all to see, but it immediately strikes both Dupin and his friend that no one can agree on many of the details. They set out on purpose in order to investigate.
The bloodthirsty murder of the two women presents many challenges to the budding detectives.
No one can agree as to the language spoken by one of two strangers heard inside the apartments.
The other person is accepted by all the many witnesses to have been French.
The daughter was throttled and then stuffed up the chimney with superhuman strength.
The mother was decapitated by a cut-throat razor, also suggesting that the perpetrator of the crime was unusually strong and aggressive.
The mode of ingress and egress from the apartments also causes much uncertainty for the detectives.
One of the reasons I love The Murders in the Rue Morgue is the wholly unexpected nature of the assailant who is finally unmasked by Dupin and his friend.
Another reason I enjoy the story is the effortless way that it sets the basis for many of the essential features of the detective genre that would emerge from its beginnings here.
Dupin and the narrator provide the inspiration for the typical genius and good-natured sidekick who will be an integral part of the murder mystery story. Their mockery of the plodding police for lagging behind their own investigation of the crime is also present here.
The dramatic unveiling of the explanation and identity of the culprit as climax to the tale is also set up nicely in the broad sense.
Critics have rightly focused on a number of technical difficulties and inconsistencies that feature in the story.
It is a central plank of the detective story that every last detail must be both absolutely plausible and accurate.
I resolutely support this kind of thoroughness, both from the writer who creates a story and the reviewers who tackle any issue likely to cause difficult for readers in suspending disbelief and maintaining that suspension.
Questions such as ease of entry and exit via a window given the furniture layout in the room might make it impossible do matter a great detail. The whole carefully constructed house of cards can easily come tumbling down.
However, The Murders in the Rue Morgue has a slightly improbable air courtesy of the nature of the assailant, which I won't reveal here in order to avoid plot spoilers, which perhaps makes it easier for this particular story to survive its undeniable technical issues.
Edgar Allan Poe went on to write a number of other detective stories, including The Mystery of Marie Roget, written in a similar style.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue has been adapted for film and even inspired a heavy metal song.
For myself, I love the catchy and evocative title.
The short story appears in the various, extensive collected works of Edgar Allan Poe, maintaining its place as an old favourite with his fans.
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