#MyrtleMondays: Myrtle & The Rue Morgue

Why yes, I have been wondering how I might work that title in to the series somehow—and last week, Mystery Writers of America gave me the perfect opening. I am beyond excited to share the thrilling news that Premeditated Myrtle has been nominated for an Edgar Award!

This is the highest honor an American mystery writer can receive, and past Edgar honorees have included Phyllis Whitney, Richard Peck, Willo Davis Roberts, Virginia Hamilton, Joan Lowry Nixon, Nancy Springer…. All those amazing authors whose mysteries I loved growing up (and still do!). The boxed set of Willo Davis Roberts mysteries my big brother and I shared was a prized possession in our house. (And I have it now, nyah-nyah-nyah...) You might also be familiar with some of the honorees for adult mystery fiction, like Ellery Queen, Patricia Highsmith, Mary Stewart, Ken Follett, Stephen King…. Yes, an august company, indeed! (An Auguste company, perhaps?)

Why “the Edgar,” you ask? It’s named, of course, for 19th century author Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is well-known now as the quintessential master of horror, having given us such indelibly haunting works as “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit & the Pendulum,” and one of my favorites, “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Posthumous portrait of Edgar Allan Poe by Friedrich Bruckmann, 1876, which has a story as fascinating as everything associated with Poe

But Poe was also a pioneer of detective fiction, one of the earliest writers from America—or anywhere else—to establish the time-honored elements of the genre. Poe introduced such features as the amateur sleuth, the chronicling narrator, the focus on police procedure, and the uncanny observational skills of the detective. The oft-quoted claim that Poe was writing his detective tales before the word detective entered the English language is not quite true, but it wasn’t yet ubiquitous. Poe called them stories of “ratiocination” (which rolls off the tongue so euphoniously, it’s amazing we don’t still use it).

Many laudable candidates have been put forth as the “first” modern mystery (including Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone from 1868, or Charles Dickens’s Bleak House from 1853, among others), but Poe was ratiocinating even earlier. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is clearly in the running for first American detective story.

By the time Byam Shaw illustrated his 1909 edition of “Rue Morgue,” the story was already a classic on both sides of the pond.

Published in 1841 in Graham’s Magazine, edited by Poe himself, the story still has the power to captivate and stump even the most attentive reader. Once you’ve read it, you will never forget the culprit of the gruesome titular crimes, and while you’re reading it, you’ll never guess whodunit. Poe’s crime-solver, intellectual dilettante C. Auguste Dupin, is much cleverer than you. But along the way, you’ll be treated to some of the earliest and most brilliant examples of the mystery tropes we have come to love and even expect, nearly 200 years later.

Here, for your reading pleasure, courtesy of The Poe Museum, is the reason there is not only an Edgar Allan Poe Award, but the literary field of American mysteries. Click the purple links below:

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe 

Or listen to it here at LibriVox.

Arthur Rackham’s madcap illustration from 1935 belies the horrors yet to be discovered in “The Rue Morgue”

Enjoy!

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