The detective story is a tale that features a mystery and/or the commission of a crime, emphasizing the search for a solution. It distinguishes itself from other forms of fiction by the fact that it is a puzzle. The detective story did not just spring into being in its current form, but rather, evolved over time. The first true detective stories were written by Edgar Allan Poe. Many writers and critics have plainly stated that he is the inventor of detective fiction.
Poe introduces one of the most basic elements of the detective story, which is the presentation of clues for his readers. This idea becomes very important in all subsequent works of detective fiction. That is, in all such fiction, all of the clues are available for the reader and the detective to solve the crime (usually murder), and at the end of the story, the reader should be able to look back on the clues and realize that he could have solved the mystery. A detective story in which the solution is suddenly revealed to the reader in considered bad form.
Poe was a man so devoted to concealment and deception and unraveling and detection that it was only natural for it to be displayed in his writings. He managed to manipulate setting, character, and dialogue to lead the reader inescapably to the emotional state most appropriate for the perfect murder. Poe does not allow the reader to merely sit back and observe, but makes the reader accompany the detective toward the solution and apply his own powers of logic and deduction alongside those of the detective.
Although a crime usually has been committed, the reader’s attention is diverted to the baffling circumstances surrounding the crime rather than to the event itself. The tale’s climax is the solution of the puzzle, and the bulk of the narrative concerns the logical process by which the investigator follows a series of clues to this solution. Very often the “detective” solves the mystery by means of deductive reasoning from facts known both to the character and the reader.
Poe wrote five short narratives in which he originated almost every significant principle used by detective story writers for more than a century afterward. He called them “tales of ratiocination” (reasoning). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers have placed Poe at the beginning of the tradition of detective fiction. They believe he used numerous conventions of the genre, in particular the “armchair detective” and sidekick/narrator to serve as an intermediary between the detective and reader.
These “tales of ratiocination,” all written between 1840 and 1844 have raised many issues beyond the question of their “originary status. ” addressing such problems as “reading” the urban world of strangers, grasping the workings of the human mind, and collecting the rewards for intellectual effort. These tales, which make fascinating reading, begin with”The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), which was the very first in a respected tradition of so-called locked room cases, where the crime takes place in a seemingly impossible location.
The Gold Bug” (1843) is the ancestor of hundreds of stories dependent on the solution of a coded message; and “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842-1843), an essay in armchair detection and considered a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue. ” They continue with “Thou Art the Man” (1844), which reveals the most unlikely person as the murderer and is the first comic detective story; and “The Purloined Letter” (1845), which successfully presents the theory that when all other possibilities have been discarded, the one remaining, however apparent improbable, must be correct.
In these and similar tales, Poe’s interest “centers on the processes of detection, leaving the moral issues of the crimes either largely unaddressed or curiously deflected. ” (Cleman 623) Poe’s writings introduced C. Auguste Dupin, the first great detective of fiction. Dupin is abrupt, contemptuous of the police, and more like a reasoning machine than a human being, being both eccentric and brilliant. His unnamed friend, who is a devoted admirer of the detective’s methods, is less brilliant but, at times, he is perhaps more rational and analytical than Dupin is.
He never, however, has the flashes of genius that the detective exhibits; instead he begins with the tradition of the chronicler of the famous detective’s exploits. In other words, he mediates between reader and detective, presenting what information he has to the reader, while allowing the detective to keep certain information and interpretations to himself. This technique has since been employed by numerous writers of detective fiction, the most famous being the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson combination.
Because it was Poe’s first “tale of ratiocination”, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” introduces more basic features of detective fiction than any of Poe’s other short stories. Among these basic features are three central ideas: (1) the murder occurs in a locked room from which there is no apparent outlet. The police are completely baffled as to how the murderer has escaped, because the doors were locked from the inside with the key inside with the victim, the windows apparently nailed shut, and the chimney blocked by one of the victims’ bodies. ) motive, access, and other surface evidence points to an innocent person. Frequently in detective fiction, the amateur detective is drawn into the case because a friend or acquaintance has been falsely accused, as is Adolphe Le Bon, who “once rendered me a service for which I am not ungrateful. ” Thus, M. Dupin is drawn into the case because of an obligation to the accused. (3) the detective uses some sort of unexpected means to produce the solution.
One basic appeal of detective fiction lies in the unexpected solution, which becomes logical only in retrospect. Two truisms concerning detective fiction today are also presented for the first time in this story of Poe’s. First, the truth is what remains after the impossible has been determined – no matter how improbable that truth may seem. That is, the police determine or surmise that there was no possible exit from the room of the murdered women. The door was locked from within, and all the windows were securely locked.
Second, the more apparently difficult case is and the more out of the ordinary the case is, the more easily, ironically, the case can be solved by the key detective. The problem in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” that has the police so stumped is simply how can a nonrational, inhuman being break through the bounds of law, custom, and civilized order and commit such a gruesome and horrible atrocity on two well protected women. The police cannot bring themselves to conclude that a human could possibly do this. The house is built in such a way as to protect it from the very acts committed there.
The murders can only be solved logically when a person is able to place his human mind into conformity with a non-human mind and with the irrational acts of the “Ourang-Outang”. In the opening sequence of the story, Poe offers some of the views expressed about the need of the detective to be observant, more so than the ordinary person. Furthermore, he must know exactly what to observe. The most casual movement or expression can often reveal more than the magnifying glass which M. Dupin never uses, even though the police constantly rely on one to help them solve crimes.
The superlative detective must also be able to make the proper inferences from the things he observes. Here is why ingenuity becomes the most important aspect of solving a crime. The narrator first met Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin when they were looking for a rare volume in the library. Shortly thereafter, they become friends and share an old house together. In later detective fiction, this convention is repeated; the brilliant detective and his sidekick will often share the same living abode. (Barbour 69) The narrator then gives us an example of M.
Dupin’s brilliant analytical ability in which they are strolling along the street one night and M. Dupin answers a question the narrator had been asking in his own mind. M. Dupin explains how through the logic of their previous conversations and by observing certain actions in his friend’s movements, he was able to deduce at what point his friend had come to a certain conclusion. Not long after this, the announcement is made in the newspaper of the murders, outlining the bare facts of how the two women were found and in what state their bodies were in.
The old woman was found in the courtyard with many shattered bones, probably by some kind of club, while her daughter was found stuffed up a chimney feet first. It would have taken superhuman strength to do put her there because of the violent tugs it took from more than one person to remove her. The old woman had just withdrew 4,000 francs in gold from her bank, but the gold was found in the middle of the room. Two voices had been heard, one of a Frenchman, another of an unknown accent by citizens of various and nationalities, but noted to be distinctively shriller and higher.
Because an acquaintance of M. Dupin is accused of the murders, he receives permission to investigate the crime scene, a setting which is extremely intriguing since the newspapers have reported that it would be a crime impossible to solve because there was no way for a murderer to escape the locked, enclosed apartment. M. Dupin then begins his method of ratiocination, maintaining that the solution of the mystery is in direct ratio to its apparent insolubility, according to police.
He points out to the narrator that although the police believed the windows secured, they were in fact, not. One of the nail heads was broken, enabling the window to be opened without obvious detection because of the appearance that it was not broken. M. Dupin notes that no human being could kill with such ferocity and brutality, as human beings do not possess such strength. Therefore, his intuitive and analytical mind must now conceive of a murderer who has astounding agility, superhuman strength, and a brutal and inhuman ferocity.
In addition, he must explain a murder without motive. These clues alone should allow the careful reader to venture an educated guess as to the nature of the perpetrator of the crime. Most readers however, like the narrator, need more clues. We then read that M. Dupin has compared the tuft of hair found in one of the victims hands as not being human and that the handprint found at the scene is in direct proportion to an “Ourang-Outang. ” Furthermore, he has advised the owner through a newspaper ad to claim his lost animal.
Once arrived, the sailor admits to witnessing the commission of the crime, being powerless to stop it. You cannot read the collected tales of Poe without being aware that you are in the hands of a most peculiar writer, perhaps disturbed and obsessed. He touched on an underside of madness and the criminal mind that readers were squeamish to acknowledge. Poe’s preoccupation with death was itself perfectly orthodox in a period when death was an everyday family event, in a way that is difficult for us for whom death is a resented intrusion to remember.
If we accept Poe’s invitation to play detective, and commence to read him with an eye for submerged meaning, it is not long before we sense that there are meanings to be found through his repeated use of certain narrative patterns, repetition of certain words and phrases, and use in his detective stories of certain scenes and properties. (Wilbur 52-53) Poe’s tales are intriguing enough to hypnotize the reader to finish the tale in a single sitting, so that the tale can be taken in as a whole, like a lyric poem or painting, as opposed to a novel that one puts down and picks up repeatedly.