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Edgar Allan Poe’s Detective Stories: A First of its Kind

Poe created the modern detective stories.
Poe created the modern detective stories (not Arthur Conan Doyle).

Many of us are excited to watch Mike Flanagan’s latest book-to-screen Netflix adaptation this Halloween, based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story by the same name "The Fall of the House of Usher." I thought this might be a great time to highlight an interesting fact about Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe is known for his macabre and Gothic stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart” or the poem “The Raven” (my first introduction was on the Simpsons!), but that isn’t the only genre he wrote in. In fact, Poe is credited with creating the first modern detective story, featuring Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

I know what you’re thinking: that title must belong to Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story series that introduced us to Sherlock Holmes and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson. But Doyle’s first work that featured the sleuth, “A Study in Scarlet”, was first published in October 1887, more than 45 years after Poe introduced his detective in the April 1841 edition of Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine.

How similar are Edgar Allan Poe's detective stories to Doyle's?

Even though Poe was American, he set his detective, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, in Paris to solve mysteries (it was likely that Poe was inspired by newspaper articles about French policemen). The stories are told by Dupin’s roommate, much like Dr. Watson’s role, and the police are often out of their depth when it comes to the case.

What made Poe’s character a “modern” detective, and what inspired works and characters that came after, is the fact that Dupin approached his cases methodically by using deduction, he’s a figure that is considered incredibly brilliant but also eccentric by his contemporaries.

“He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talent into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension preternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.”

(Opening paragraph of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”)

Sounds a lot like Holmes, doesn’t it? About Dupin and Poe, Doyle wrote: "Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?" And Holmes isn’t the only literary detective in this vein: there is Sergeant Cuff from Wilkie Collins’ (author of The Woman in White) 1868 novel, The Moonstone, and both Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot from writer Agatha Christie fit the mold.

With more than 70 short stories, if you’re wondering where to start with Edgar Allan Poe’s work, you might want to consider beginning with the star of the modern detective tale and reading “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Don’t worry, you’ll find Dupin in two additional detective stories, "The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter.”

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