Book Review: Beyond Rue Morgue: Further Tales of Edgar Allen Poe’s 1st Detective

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Beyond Rue Morgue: Further Tales of Edgar Allen Poe’s 1st Detective

Edited by Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec
324 pp. Titan Books
$14.95

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is used as the template for detectives with amazing memory, visual, and deductive skills. There have been many recent TV shows based on this type of character – “Monk”, “Psych”, “The Mentalist”, “Unforgettable”, “Lie to Me” – all shows with a lead character exhibiting hyper deductive, hyper observant skills. Even shows in the CSI realm depend on this type of behavior, although they use questionable science and computer techniques to produce such deductions. There are even two Sherlock Holmes shows set in the modern day – “Elementary” and “Sherlock”. Holmes must surely be the original!

Edgar Allen Poe would beg to differ. His Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” dates back to 1841… 46 years before the first Holmes story was published in 1887. To redress this situation, Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec have collected a set of stories inspired by C. Auguste Dupin in Beyond Rue Morgue: Further Tales of Edgar Allen Poe’s 1st Detective.

Anchoring the book is the original Poe story. I had not read this story for many years, although I remembered the main plot. It’s somewhat difficult to read, and the plot is laid out in a series of long speeches by Dupin exhaustively explaining his deductions. It is amazing today to read this story and realize how it already completely embodies what we are so familiar with in detective stories. Dupin takes the smallest bits of evidence – some strange hair, differing eyewitness testimonies – and weaves them into an amazing whole.

What follows are nine stories, all but one written specifically for this collection. Several feature the unnamed narrator from Poe’s story as the protagonist; some feature Dupin interacting with other narrators; and some feature descendants of Dupin.

My favorite story in the collection is Elizabeth Massie’s “From Darkness, Emerged, Returned”. It tells the story of Dupin’s American great-granddaughter, Molly Dupin, and the murder of the young man she loved. She is a recluse, yet she still manages to solve the murder. This was the most creative use of the Dupin legacy, and had a very different feel than the other stories. It is also the only story to feature a female protagonist, which I definitely appreciated.

The only previously published story in the collection is Clive Barker’s “New Murders in the Rue Morgue”, originally published in his Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Volume 2. It is the last story in the collection, deliberately put there to bookend the original story that opens the book. This story has the most direct connection to Poe’s original –more murders committed in the infamous street in Paris. The narrator, Lewis, is the grandson of Poe’s unnamed narrator.  This story is one of two that connects itself directly to Poe. Lewis informs the reader of his tale that his grandfather met Poe and told him the story of the original murders.

The story with the most original twist is “The Purloined Face”, by Stephen Volk. In this story Sherlock Holmes himself is the narrator, and we discover that Edgar Allen Poe is living in France under the name Dupin! In America Poe met a doppelganger of his named Dupin. Dupin was dying, so Poe took the opportunity to assume his identity and move to France. The doppelganger took the Poe name to the grave. The story is based on Gaston Leroux’ The Phantom of the Opera.  Although I preferred other stories, this one had the most tragic victim. Unfortunately this story does a great disservice to Holmes. He displays none of his trademark observation and deduction skills. It’s quite difficult to read a story where Holmes is the one stunned at the deduction prowess of another.

This story best illustrates the main weakness of the concept behind the book. In the end there is nothing unique about Dupin. Given the ubiquity of the hyper observant, hyper deductive detective trope, these stories could have just as easily been Holmes stories, Dupin stories, or even episodes of “The Mentalist”.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys detective stories. The weakness in the purpose behind the book doesn’t detract from the stories themselves – they are well written and enjoyable. You can order a copy by going HERE.

Elizabeth Ocon

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