‘To observe attentively is to remember distinctly’
Edgar Allan Poe’s short story was published in 1841 and is considered to be the first story in the detective genre. Monsieur C Auguste Dupin investigates the brutal murder of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter in the rue Morgue, a fictional street in Paris. The mother’s throat has been cut and the daughter strangled, before being pushed up into the chimney. Dupin’s only clues are an overheard conversation in an indistinct language and a strange-looking hair at the scene of the crime.
Without giving away the plot, the dénouement is quite fantastical and I should think very few readers could predict the preposterous outcome. Having said that, this is a wonderful early Victorian whodunnit that gathers pace through the sensational newspaper accounts and forensic attentions of the amateur sleuth. I loved the simplicity and logical progression of the story as Dupin searches through the clues and uses logic to find the perpetrator.
Appearing as formal detective forces were established in London and Paris, and at the very beginning of ‘detective fever’, The Murders in the Rue Morgue was clearly inspiration for the creation of Sherlock Holmes, almost half a century later as well as other fictional detectives, such as Hercule Poirot. In real life I have to admit that I haven’t encountered such an authentic tale of quite such brilliant deduction, even in the cases of Detective Caminada. One of the times he came the closest to Dupin’s result was when he found the imprint of the address of a suspected Fenian terrorist on a jotting pad in a cottage in Widnes, Cheshire. Strangely the address turned out to be in Paris!
The next read in my Victorian Crime Club is going to be The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886), by Fergus Hume. Do read along and let me know what you think.