Beyond Rue Morgue

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BeyondRueMorgueEdited by Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec — Le Chevalier  C Auguste Dupin, Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous creation, is considered by many to be fiction’s first detective character. Indeed, at the time of his first appearance in the 1841 novella The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the term detective had not been coined. Over the course of two further stories – The Mystery of Marie Roget in 1842, and The Purloined Letter in 1844 – he would form the template for the Golden Age Detective. His process of ‘ratiocination’ involved the application of logical thought and acute observation in the interpretation of facts. Intuition and flights of fancy were to be avoided. Suffice to say, Poe’s influence on the writers that followed him is undeniable.

Beyond Rue Morgue is an inspired celebration of one of fiction’s most enduring characters. Eight contemporary writers deliver new short stories and the collection is book-ended with two reprints. The first reprinted story is, of course, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Poe’s classic locked-room mystery in which Madame L’Espanaye is found in her fourth floor Parisian apartment with her throat cut and her daughter throttled and partially stuffed up a chimney. The unnamed narrator, present in all of Poe’s Dupin stories, describes Dupin’s process of ratiocination leading to the solving of the mystery. It proves to be as weird as it is inventive.

The second reprint that rounds off Beyond Rue Morgue is Clive Barker’s New Murders in the Rue Morgue from 1984. Here the feted painter Lewis, great nephew of Dupin, returns to Paris to help his friend Phillipe who has been accused of murder. The solution proves so horrifying and bizarre that Lewis commits suicide.

Now to some of the highlights among the new stories… Mike Carey’s In The Sons of Tammany is set in New York in 1870 with Thomas Nast, cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, showing Dupin around the city. They come across an industrial accident at the foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge – 20 men have suffocated underground, and the political elite have quickly decided no investigation is needed. Dupin suspects sabotage and his investigation puts him up against City Hall. The bluff and blustering of New York’s vested interests provide no defence against Dupin’s implacable search for truth. Carey delivers nice comic touches in amongst the investigation and I’m sure his story is meant as a timely reminder of the often unhealthy relationship between big business and our Governments. Slyly subversive and a favourite of mine.

The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightening is by Joe R Lansdale, whose short stories have appeared in other anthologies we’ve reviewed. It’s a literary mash-up, the likes of which only Lansdale could dream up. Grimm’s fairytales, Poe’s Dupin, and Lovecraft’s Necronomicon combine in a story as humourous as it is ridiculous. The soul of an alchemist, trapped inside the body of an ape tries to bring about the end of the world…

Stephen Volk’s The Purloined Face is almost as long as a novella, and it too is a story which also takes some literary liberties. Volk’s conceit is that Poe faked his own death and moved to Paris where he lived as Dupin, sometimes solving crimes that the Paris prefecture could not. The story is narrated by his pupil, Sherlock Holmes! Here we see Holmes making mistakes as he tries to imitate Poe’s deductive reasoning in the case of the Phantom of the Opera. If nothing else, Volk makes Conan Doyle’s debt to Poe quite explicit.

What could improve the anthology might be some stories that expand more on Dupin himself. Some of the pieces included focus on his descendants, but if you think about it the characters presented could just as easily be the nephews or grandsons of Sherlock Holmes and the stories wouldn’t read any differently. Only Mike Carey (see above) and Lisa Tuttle (After the End) really explore more the character of Dupin as a seeker of truth no matter what the personal cost.

Beyond Rue Morgue is clearly more a playful pastiche than a critical appraisal of Poe’s writing, but its stories are never less than entertaining and are of a standard that most similar Sherlock Holmes collections struggle to match. And if they lead new readers back to Edgar Allen Poe and his Murders in the Rue Morgue, so much the better.

Titan Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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