detective stories

Book Review: The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales (Edgar Allan Poe, 1833-49)


Nobody does macabre better than Poe.

I’ve finally read some of Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic horror stories – I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to get round to it. Each one was nothing less than a delight.

I read the volume of stories published as part of the brilliant Penguin English Library series (NB even if the stories hadn’t been any good I still would have relished the experience of reading this beautiful book).

The tales are mostly horror, with a couple of early detective stories mixed in. I’ll just mention a handful of my favourites:

  • ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ – an utterly chilling story about a madman murdering and dismembering an old man, now one of my favourite short stories ever
  • ‘The Black Cat’ – a similarly macabre story about an alcoholic killer haunted by a vengeful and demonic cat-ghost
  • ‘William Wilson’ – the eerie tale of a man’s slide into debauchery, and his increasingly disturbing encounters with a sinister doppelgänger
  • ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ – in a land ravaged by a virulent plague, a ghastly uninvited guest wreaks havoc at a masked ball for the aristocracy
  • ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ – one of the first ever crime stories, in which Parisian sleuth C. Auguste Dupin tackles a gruesome double murder in a locked room
  • ‘Ligeia’ – in which an opium addict’s obsessive love for his dead wife has unforeseen supernatural consequences.

Really though, they’re all great. There are 19 tales in the book, including classics such as ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, ’The Fall of the House of Usher’ and ‘The Cask of Amontillado’.

Poe’s writing is perfect. He never wasted a word, and his skill at building an atmosphere of clammy dread in just a few pages is matchless. He avoided tidy explanations, giving most of the stories an ambiguity that keeps them ticking over in your head afterwards.

He was also hugely influential. As one of the first writers to focus on the grim and the gruesome, as well as one of the first to incorporate deduction and mystery into his stories, his legacy extends to pretty much all horror and crime fiction written since.

If you’ve somehow never come across Poe, and if dark, haunting stories steeped in madness and death sound like your thing, then buy this book. Like me, you’ll treasure it. And maybe sleep with the lights on for a bit.


Penguin English Library | 2012 | 320p | Paperback | Buy here