Classic Crime

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was born 19th January 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. Both parents were actors who died soon after the birth of their son. Poe’s father passed away in 1810 and his mother followed in 1811.

Poe was accepted into the house of merchant, John Allan and, although Allan never legally adopted Poe, Edgar himself chose to take the man’s name as his middle name. Poe, whilst under the wing of Allan, had been partly brought up in England from 1815 to 1820. There he attended Manor School in Stoke Newington.

Edgar Allan Poe is widely known for having been expelled from certain institutes. He was expelled from the University of Virginia for not settling his numerous gambling debts and was thrown out of the Army in 1930 after three years for neglecting his duties as a soldier. During this period he argued with Allan who also disowned Poe.

Poe took several jobs at different publications including the Southern Literary Messenger. After living with his aunt for some time, Poe married his 13 year-old cousin, Virginia. Soon afterwards she burst a blood vessel and became an invalid until her early death in 1842.

After his wife’s death, Poe was sucked deeper into drink and drugs induced by his depression and, sometimes, madness. Strangely, this was a time he was at his most creative. He dedicated his poem, "Annabel-Lee", to his deceased wife and also wrote "The Raven" to great critical acclaim.

In 1848, Poe attempted suicide. The following year, after drinking heavily at a birthday party, Poe disappeared for three days. He was discovered in a delirious condition and he died in Baltimore on 7th October 1849. His death was as strange and mysterious as some of the short stories he wrote. To this day, people speculate on the manner of his sudden demise.

Review: The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales

To celebrate this writer and the release of Matthew Pearl’s new novel, The Poe Shadow, Vintage books have released the three tales that feature C. Auguste Dupin.

These stories are often celebrated for laying the foundations of crime writing today, and Poe is now seen as the grandfather of crime writing by practising crime writers today.

Everyone knows "The Murders at the Rue Morgue", which is told from different perspectives of the people who charged the house from where the screaming had been coming from. It is with certain clues that Dupin is able to lay his hands on the culprit.

"The Mystery of Marie Roget" is a slightly different case in the fact that no ‘murderer’ is actually apprehended. What Poe seems to have been trying to do was to draw comparisons with a real crime, which had happened to a young girl in New York. His thesis on a drowned body is, I am sure, way ahead of the writing in those days.

Lastly, we have my favourite, which is "The Purloined Letter", which is famous among all classes of readers. It is a shining little tale of duplicity and scandal. From Matthew Pearl’s helpful notes at the front of the book, it seems that Poe may well have been double crossing us at the same time with a few well-placed insinuations in the story.

Poe is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination and certainly wouldn’t be my first choice of a relaxing book to take onto the beach. However, as a kind of crime fiction genealogy, it is good to go back and see where the roots of crime fiction began.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating