A Poe Anniversary


“As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles.”

The Murders in the Rue Morgue


Today is the anniversary of the first publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841. The story is regarded as the first “proper” detective story, introducing C. Auguste Dupin to the world. An early practitioner of Holmes and Poirot’s methods (the detecting is mostly done with the ‘little grey cells), he would go on to feature in two more stories, and Poe would have set the standard for detective stories to come.


I reviewed the book here, and highly recommend it (and anything else Poe wrote!). Only be very careful that the edition you choose has a plain cover that doesn’t give the game away…

Vintage Crime Shorts: A Trio of Tales


After the mammoth tome which is the doorstep that is “The Idiot”, I confess I felt rather in need of something a little shorter and punchier. Re-enter “The Dead Witness” with its collection of classic crime shorts – just right to clear the book hangover! I found myself nipping through three stories one after the other, which quite surprised me – so I thought I’d round them up here.

Edgar Allan Poe – The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)


“Morgue” is of course considered the first ‘proper’ detective story, and despite its being preceded by “The Secret Cell”, I do agree with Michael Sims, the editor of this anthology, that Poe still deserves the title. “Cell” had none of the characteristics that Poe laid down and everyone else copied: a unique detective, with unusual characteristics, and a way of deducing facts no-one else could’ an apparently insoluble murder; the first locked room mystery; the baffled and amazed sidekick; bumbling policemen who couldn’t solve the crime. C. August Dupin is the detective, sharing rooms with a friend and exercising his brain cells (are they little and grey?) to such an extent that he can even break into his friend’s train of thought and predict exactly what he is going to say. When a mother and daughter are found brutally slain, in unusual circumstances, in the Rue Morgue it takes Dupin to solve the mystery. I shall say *nothing* about the crime or the solution, because the only downside with re-reading this story is that once you know the solution you won’t forget it, and in many ways it’s difficult to re-read! However, if you do plan to read it, please be careful of the edition you choose – I’ve seen several with cover pictures that totally give the game away…. That’s by the by, anyway. All that needs to be said is that Poe was a bit of a genius and we crime story fanciers have a lot to thank him for!

Charles Dickens – On Duty with Inspector Field (1851)


This, I confess, I found to be a bit of an oddity. More essay than story, “Field” tells an impressionistic tale of Dickens’ trip out into the worst areas of London with the real Inspector Field, seeing how the underbelly of the city’s occupants had to live. Mixing with all kinds of criminals, accompanied at all times by police officers, Dickens shows us the downside of Victorian society – poverty, starvation, crime and prostitution. It’s a beautifully written piece, full of atmosphere and poignant observation. But I couldn’t quite work out why it was here; to be honest, I would have preferred an extract from “Bleak House” showing Inspector Bucket in action! (I believe the latter was actually based on Field). Ah well – on to the next story.

Wilkie Collins – The Diary of Anne Rodway (1856)


Collins is of course another important progenitor of the detective story, in particular with “The Moonstone”, considered the first detective novel in the English language and featuring Sergeant Cuff. So it’s not unusual to find him also working in this vein in short stories, and “Rodway” is an early example of telling a story in the diary form and also a female doing the investigation. Anne Rodway is poor; living in cheap lodgings, she ekes out a living sewing whilst waiting for her fiance to return from abroad where he is attempting to earn enough for them to marry. Her best friend Mary is also poor, but beautiful, and the two girls are like sisters. So when Mary is attacked and dies, it is almost more than Anne can bear. The police are convinced she simply fell and banged her head, but Anne is not so sure and when she finds a ‘clew’ (I *love* that spelling!) in form the form of the torn off end of a cravat, gripped in dead Mary’s hand, she determines to find out the truth. The story of her investigations, against the background of poverty in the city, is poignant and moving – Collins really can tell a wonderful tale, and in some ways is more readable than Dickens, who does tend to lapse into extravagances of language at times! I’ve only read “The Moonstone” and “The Woman in White” of Collins’ work, and I really think I need to read more!

So that’s another three tales from “The Dead Witness” – my only quibble with the book so far would be the minor one that the compiler hasn’t put the publication date next to the title of each story. That would have been useful, in my view!


Edgar Allan Poe


On this day in 1849, the great writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe died in hospital, after falling ill in mysterious circumstances.


I love Poe’s stories and poems – this is one of my favourites:

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.


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