‘A disappointing collection’ – Beyond Rue Morgue – Further Tales of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1st Detective – Edited by Paul Kane & Charles Prepolec
Beyond Rue Morgue is a short story collection with a slight twist. Poe wrote a set of short stories in the 1840’s featuring a detective called Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin. This collection consists of ten stories Poe’s original work “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and then followed by nine additional stories. Reading the introduction by Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec, editors of this collection, I was lead to believe that the main character of Poe’s story, Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, would be featuring throughout the collection and I was slightly disappointed as this was not always the case. The nine authors are varied in their individual styles, but they have all written in the horror or supernatural and science fiction genres for long periods of their careers. Only two of the authors Simon Clark and Mike Carey have any credited previous work involving crime alongside the horror or supernatural. Maybe this collection would have been more engaging if more of this type of skill set was utilised.
Having been raised with the eternal characters of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Poirot, I was surprised to learn that these were not the first fictional detectives that have given way to one of the most popular genres to grace the bookshelves or television screens today. This accolade surprisingly belongs to Edgar Allan Poe. In 1841, Poe published a short story called “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” featuring the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin featured again in two more stories between 1842 and 1844. Poe may have written these stories in response to changes in how a city or country investigated and viewed crimes, particularly violent crimes. In many cities at this time a more formalised police force was brought into effect and some writings around the time reflect this occurrence. Poe on the other hand, didn’t concentrate on the presence of the police but on the possibility that a gentleman of independent means would be curious enough to investigate crimes and provide solutions to stalled police forces. His story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” introduced this man as being C. Auguste Dupin and his unnamed companion. Dupin is a highly intelligent gentleman of various interests as long as they are mentally taxing. As I read Poe’s original story I was continually reminded of Sherlock Holmes. Not to be reminded of Holmes would be rather difficult I fear as there have been so many portrayals. Dupin possesses the insistent need to discover the truth about any event that sparks his interest. He can devise the true happenings in a crime when no one else can. In this story the main reason Dupin can solve it is because he has the ability to disregard all conventional possibilities, and follow a previously unthought-of possibility. In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” Dupin is the one to find the vital piece of evidence – an unusual strand of hair. This hair leads to the solution of the vicious crime, which turns out not to be a crime but a tragic accident of very unusual origins.
As with all Poe’s work it is a very well executed piece of writing. However it is rather thin on the characterisation of some characters and in response to this Dupin appears to be arrogant and although very mannerly, he has little time for people he deems to be unequal to him in mental abilities. You are lead to believe that Dupin only tolerates his companion. This seems to be the over-riding aspect from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” that many of the authors of this collection have used to inspire their stories. Previous to this book, I had only read two of the authors included, Clive Barker and Elizabeth Massie. And while I enjoy both authors normally, I was sorely disappointed on this occasion. Clive Barker’s story “New Murders in the Rue Morgue” uses the tack that C. Auguste Dupin is in fact a real life person that Poe learnt about from a chance encounter in a pub. This information has been passed down through the family and at the end of 20th Century we meet Lewis, Dupin’s grandson. Lewis is fascinated by his grandfather’s life and is rather proud of how he was the one to solve the murders of Mme L’Espanaye and Mademoiselle Camille L’Espanaye in real life. Lewis is currently living in America and is suddenly called back to Paris after a friend is accused of murder. The beginning of this story concentrates on how Paris has changed over time and the affects of modern life on the city and its inhabitants. This extended introduction is unnecessary and long winded, but the story eventually begins to pick up pace. However once the reader figures out the twist that is inevitably coming the story begins to border on the purely outlandish. From such a well known and respected writer I found this story to be rather dull and predictable.
Elizabeth Massie, similarly took the line of making her main character a member of a future generation of Dupin’s. In “From Darkness, Emerged, Returned” we meet the great-granddaughter Molly Dupin. Massie writes her story at the beginning of 20th Century. But it falls flat. The character Molly is well drawn and there is a slightly unexpected ending but it still didn’t grab. In the end I was more interested in Molly’s mother. For me the most failing aspect of this story is the sudden explanation of the family linage. Poe’s Dupin didn’t strike me as a character that would use a prostitute. Between this and how Molly lives I found this story to be wholly unbelievable and uninspiring.
One story that I did enjoy was “The Unfathomed Darkness” by Simon Clark. Clark was one of the writers that allowed Dupin to remain in the timeline that he was originally intended for. I read this story as if it was in fact written by Poe, with his original vision of C. Auguste Dupin. Clark grasped Dupin and his companion’s characters precisely as Poe had written them. After heading out into a snowy winters night to acquire the promised treasure of a rare book of Byzantine philosopher Michael Psellus, the two men hear a scream cutting across the night. Following the screams the two men come across a dead man lying face down in the snow. But the most peculiar aspect of this discovery is the lack of visible ingress or egress to the meadow. The snow lies undisturbed in all directions.
“Carried by angels?” Dupin’s eyes gleamed with impish delight—a veritable witch-fire blazed there. The mystery enthralled him. “Or was the gentleman thrust from beneath the ground by the Devil? So, Monsieur. From above? From below? What is it to be?”
What surprised me most about this collection was how all the writers stuck to the crime genre with no real input from any other forms. Upon reading the biographies of all the authors, I saw that many of them wrote in the horror genre, and are well awarded from the Bram Stoker Awards to the Best New Science Fiction Writer, yet these didn’t grace any of the stories in this collection. Edgar Allan Poe is known to be a Gothic writer, even if he did invent the first literary detective. For my mind crime and horror can be placed alongside each other easily, however none of the writers in this collection made this connection. For me personally it would have been much more interesting if one of the writers had written a story linking crime and the Gothic.
Any Cop?: Overall a disappointing collection. It didn’t hold my attention. Only one story pulled me in, however this may not be enough of a reason for someone to buy this book.
Margaret M. O’ Toole
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- August 21, 2013 / 2:25 am