Page 6

 

Home

About Us
Contact
Advertise With Us
 

This month's theme: Mysteries
 
Edgar Allan Poe and the
Genesis of the Modern Whodunit

by

Orlando Bartro


 

 

Page from Poe’s “Rue Morgue” manuscript –courtesy of Wikipedia commons
Click image for larger view

 

 

 

 

 

 

The crossword puzzle, once solved, loses its allure.

How enticing it had been, with its initial grid of blanks, and then its scattered intersecting answers, a word here, a word there, a mysterious letter z that suggested ten possibilities—and now it lies dead on the page, a tombstone of disembodied words.

But Edgar Allan Poe might have seen the finished crossword puzzle as a puzzle itself. Who completed it? What might the handwriting indicate? Are there any erasures? Which words were guessed first? Might these clues suggest anything about the psychological profile of the solver?

Poe liked puzzles of all kinds, from the inner workings of Maelzel’s supposed automata, which purported to be a machine that played chess (but probably hid a fleshy little man)—to geometric puzzles such as the one in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket—to ciphers, one of which prominently appears near the end of “The Gold Bug.” It was, therefore, a predictable — though surprising — leap to make an entire story into a puzzle.

He invented the modern whodunit with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a short story published in 1841. Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, the sleuth in the story, has had numerous direct descendants, including the slender and fastidious Sherlock Holmes, whose mind was like a neat attic, storing only what was necessary for solving crimes. Sherlock Holmes, in his turn, became the most popular model for the subsequent detectives and curious busybodies who solve murder cases in delightfully ingenious ways.

The whodunit is now a well-worn genre, but with many fresh plots remaining to be found along its cemetery walkways.

In 1957, Robbe-Grillet elevated the whodunit to an experimental art form with Jealousy, a story so puzzling that many readers enjoy it without noticing that someone’s been murdered. It’s the perfect crime . . . until finally a puzzle-loving reader unearths a corpse being eaten by isopods. The lugubrious Poe would have approved.

###

Orlando Bartro is the author of Toward Two Words, a novel about a man lost in a Mansion of Left Turns who finds yet another woman he never knew, available at Amazon.com. He is currently writing two new novels and a play. You can hear more of his insights into fiction at the Grassy Elbow at YouTube.

 

 



 

Home

About Us
Contact
Advertise With Us
 

Copyright © 2017 by TAAL All rights reserved