An old story
Edgar Allan Poe occupies a similar role in crime fiction, credited with inventing the detective story and just about every variant thereof: the locked-room mystery, the private-detective tale, the thinking detective, the detective-plus-partner team, the puzzle story, the code-and-cipher tale, etc. Unlike Yogi Berra, though, Poe may get too little credit. He may have been the first comic crime writer as well:
"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, who had the fashion of calling everything "odd" that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of contradictions.That's from "The Purloined Letter," a reading of which has just prompted these thoughts:
1) The story takes place in Paris, yet, by contemporary standards, nothing save the protagonist's name (C. Auguste Dupin) and the police officer's rank (prefect) marks the setting as French. In Poe's day, however, the very fact of the story's being a detective tale may itself have carried all the connotations of France that he needed, thanks to François-Eugène Vidocq.
2) In one respect, at least, the story has found more followers in England than in the U.S. Dupin and his unnamed narrator are, of course, the direct fathers of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The distinct superiority of private investigator to police is also, for various reasons, more characteristic of later English detective fiction than of American.
3) The story is all telling, no action. The only sections that take place in the narrative "present" are the meetings of Dupin, his assistant, and the Prefect of Police, Monsieur G– . This might interest followers of Patti Abbott's current discussion of exposition.
4) The anthologists' introduction tells us that "extensive research" has disproved the belief that Poe was plagued by alcohol and drug problems. Rumors to that effect, we are told, were "grossly exaggerated by a rival who sought to discredit him after his death." It is amusing to think there was a time when such things would discredit a crime writer.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Edgar Allan Poe
Labels: Edgar Allan Poe