“That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, who had a fashion of calling every thing "odd" that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of "oddities.”
― Edgar Allan Poe,
The Purloined Letter
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Before Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, before G.K. Chesterton's detective-priest Father Brown, before Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, came Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin. In these three tales—“The Purloined Letter,” "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt"—we witness the birth of the modern detective story, containing as they do all the major tropes of mystery fiction: the ingenious but eccentric detective, the less-than-sharp constabulary, the incompetent police as foil to the detectives. Poe defines Dupin's method, ratiocination, using the example of a card player: "the extent of information obtained; lies not so much in the validity of the inference as in the quality of the observation." Sparing no qualms over hyperbole, Poe's biographer Jeffrey Meyers sums up the significance of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" as follows: "[it] changed the history of world literature,” and in more recent times French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida engaged in a lively debate over the nature of desire that used “The Purloined Letter” as its point of reference. Here Poe invites us to move beyond the sensational element of crime and join the detectives as we discover the culprits—and ourselves.
Discovering the Detectives: Three Mystery Stories by Edgar Allan Poe