I like detective stories – it’s like playing a game whilst you read.
So with not inconsiderable excitement, I picked up The Murders in the Rue Morgue and it’s sequel The Purloined Letter. This was the first detective story ever written, and it introduces the genre beautifully. Cue:
- first-person narrative
- the all-knowing civilian detective (although the term had not been invented then)
- shoddy police work due to questionable brain power
- the solution being presented, with an explanation of why anyone (excluding the narrator, the above-mentioned police, and every other character) could have come up with it
Both stories built up the anticipation for the big reveal and, in The Murders in the Rue Morgue’s case, what a spectacular reveal it is! Seriously, who in their right mind (save for people smoking weed and watching animal documentaries) would have guessed the murderer?
Unfortunately, Edgar Allan Poe insists on including long treatises about the difference between calculating and analyzing and how chess players are not as intelligent as they think they are. He rounds out his tirade in The Purloined Letter with proof(!) that poets are far smarter than mathematicians and why it’s so unfair that mathematicians make everyone think they’re brand of intelligence is the only one to have.
I can almost visualise Poe standing in a crowded mall trying a little too hard to get people watch his PowerPoint presentation (complete with diagrams) about why he’s a genius, damn it! At this stage, I’ll stroll up to him, give him a little pat on the arm and tell him:
“Poe darling, we appreciate your contributions to the fields of gothic literature, detective novels, and poetry. You’re already a literary great! Now go and enjoy a scotch on the rocks and smile smugly down at anyone that tries to second-guess the totality of your stories.”
All in all, both were thoroughly enjoyable reads.
What I found to be far more enjoyable, however, was The Tell-Tale Heart. At only four pages long, the narrator jumps out at me as he/she plots the perfect murder due to the (quite common) motive of “the old man’s eye scares me.”
Whereas the previous stories closed all the gaps (as detective stories should have), this one, like Poe’s other work, leaves us with questions that resonate with us for far longer than it takes to read the story. Who is the narrator? Who is the old man to the narrator? Is the old man’s murder justifiable if, in fact, his eye was evil? Why didn’t the police get suspicious when the narrator started prancing around like a lunatic? Finally, how on earth is staring at a sleeping old man every night for a week conducive to planning the perfect murder?!
Ah, Poe: a genius I tell ya.