I’ve been revisiting the Atlantic Crime Classics range lately, taking a look at their February title, a new edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin stories, collected under the title of the first and most famous tale, The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
Coming before Sherlock Holmes but after Vidocq, the Dupin stories are a vital early link in the development of detective fiction: The Murders in the Rue Morgue itself is often regarded as the first modern detective story.
The setup is not wildly different to the one that Conan Doyle would later employ for Sherlock Holmes: the stories are narrated by a companion, who meets the detective in the first story, and arranges to share rooms with him. The manner of their involvement with the crimes varies: in Murders in the Rue Morgue, Dupin is a disinterested observer, piecing together the clues through newspapers and a single visit the crime scene, and through newspapers alone in The Mystery of Marie Rogêt. The Prefect makes a brief request for help in that story, but it’s only in the third story, The Purloined Letter, that the entreaties of a baffled policeman actually form a part of the storyline.
The primary difference between the Dupin setup and the Holmes stories may be the lack of actual story in Poe’s work. Each tale presents the mystery in a fairly straightforward fashion, and then gives way to a lengthy monologue from Dupin in which the clues are unravelled and the culprit, or at least a lead, is uncovered. There’s fairly little action and event in these three stories, most of all in Marie Rogêt, which reads more like an essay, or maybe a lengthy letter on the theory of ratiocination.
Here, I felt a little let down by Robert Giddings’ Case Notes. Although he does an admirable job of condensing Poe’s life story, it would have been interesting to have more analysis of the stories themselves. More information about the source of the story of Marie Rogêt, apparently based on a real crime in New York, would have been interesting, as would more on the place of these stories within the early development of the detective story. Still, it’s another nice edition from the Crime Classics range. Look out also for April title Wylder’s Hand by Sheridan Le Fanu, and in May, the final arrival of Sherlock Holmes to the series.