the observer Sat 04 April 2009
Everyone knows Edgar Allan Poe. The author's influence hangs over the gloomier end of culture like marsh gas over a swamp. He's inspired everybody from Lou Reed and Tim Burton to Damien Hirst with his macabre tales and poetry and you can't have stayed up late without catching a film based on works such as "The Fall of the House of Usher"or "The Masque of the Red Death".
This trilogy of C Auguste Dupin stories honours one of Poe's most important inventions: the modern detective. Both Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle gave Poe handsome praise for these tales, the first to feature an intellectual yet quirky sleuth using rational deduction to analyse evidence. Dupin even works with a pompous yet inferior policeman and has a perpetually astounded sidekick.
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is Dupin's most famous case and the best. The deaths are good and grisly - an old lady decapitated, a corpse shoved up a chimney - and the clues involving window shutters, unusual hair and an unidentified language are brilliantly explained. Dupin can get a bit verbose and show-offy in the other two stories, "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" and "The Purloined Letter" (the former was based on a real New York murder case that fascinated the public in 1842).
Sometimes, as he expounds his reasoning, you do feel it's a good thing the lift wasn't invented until the 1850s, after Dupin's creator had died. The thought of being stuck between floors with him is not a pleasant one. But if you love thrillers, you have to read these stories. The template created in them has yet to be bettered.