A good detective novel seems to be unique in its ability to enthrall any reader, and draw them into their fictional reality. The elements of the genre are as numerous as they are easily recognizable. The morally ambiguous, immensely intelligent detective, his bumbling but well-meaning companion, a uniquely quirky cast of suspects, inconceivable jumps in logic that still turn out to be correct, misuse of the term “deductive reasoning”, suspense, drama, ambience and the oh so thrilling climactic reveal.
Many of us would be familiar with the endeavors of Conan Doyle’s famed creation, perhaps epitomizing the genre. Many of the clichés we associate with detective media today were introduced by Doyle during his run on the Strand Magazine. Holmes’ calm logical approach to his cases, his “deductive” prowess(yes I’m still salty about that), and the stark contrast provided by Watson’s naivety have all come to be recognizable in detective stories today. But despite bringing these features to the mainstream, Doyle was not the one to come up with them.
Another giant of the field would have to be Agatha Christie, who, by the way started writing purely to prove someone wrong. Truly levels of pettiness we should all aspire to. If Doyle was a mathematician in his approach to constructing his stories, Christie was a painter. She was a master of ambience, creating unique and recognizable settings to place her characters into. She also pioneered the “whodunnit ” subgenre, a personal favourite of many mystery fans including myself. But even her brand of the quirky detective, character drama, and an undercurrent of tragedy might have been inspired by the story we’re talking today.
If, as a fan of crime, mystery, or horror you haven’t ever read Edgar Allan Poe, you my friend are missing out. Poe’s works have become cult classics of a sort, and his dark style of gothic horror still holds up nearly two centuries later. His emphasis on the macabre and the horrifying was very much a look into the tortured man. His life in fact had just as much tragedy and mystery as his creations. But it is still not very commonly known that Poe wrote perhaps the first modern detective story.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue was a short story published in Graham’s Magazine in 1841, and it introduced us to C. Auguste Dupin, a detective with a method hauntingly similar to Sherlock Holmes’ and a partner only slightly more perceptive than his. Poe’s mastery of the macabre also comes through in the particular brutality of the murders. Our detective starts of being mysterious and proves his smarts with a quick demonstration of his reasoning. Our narrator is duly impressed and the plot unfolds.
Honestly, reading with the knowledge of how early this was in the genre, it is truly surprising how many of its elements have come to become recognizable clichés now. First person narration from the detective’s “assistant”, the ludicrous reveal being followed up by a smug explanation and even the surprising method/culprit. Especially the last part. I wont spoil it, but you wouldn’t believe me if I did.
It is a very insightful read and I would recommend it to any fan of detective media. Plus, you also get the right to say you’ve read “The very first detective story”. Sorta.
Also freaking Batman is canonically a fan of Dupin, mentioning his third appearance in “The Purloined Letter”. So…
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