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Classic Mystery Stories

by Edgar Allen Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe is best remembered for his macabre tales and the somber music of poems like “Annabel Lee” and “Ulalume,” but he also gave birth to an entirely new genre: the detective story. His sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin, who solves cases by means of ratiocination, anticipates the more famous Sherlock Holmes by almost half a century. Readers will recognize many of the conventions: for example, Dupin appears to read his companion’s mind merely by observing details of his appearance and attitude.

Judged by later standards, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” falls short as a detective story. The resolution stretches credulity. But as a landmark in the development of the genre, this story—along with “The Purloined Letter” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget”—is essential reading.

Although Poe was one of the early giants of American literature, his influence was felt most particularly in France, where the poet Charles Baudelaire translated his work for a European audience. In this respect, Poe became one of our earliest literary exports, reversing the usual pattern of European influence on American letters.

by J. Mark Bertrand