Poe's Detective: audio editions of Poe's groundbreaking detective stories

AudioGo's new audiobook "Poe's Detective: The Dupin Stories" is a fantastic listen. The collection includes all three of Poe's famous "Dupin" mysteries, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Purloined Letter." and "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt," and also includes the (very good, but not Dupin) story "Thou Art the Man."

The stories are read by Bronson Pinchot, whom you'll remember from his role as "Balki" on the sitcom "Perfect Strangers." This wasn't the greatest TV ever produced, and Pinchot's scenery-chewing comedy accent work was often over the top, but what little laughs Strangers evoked inevitably belonged to him.

Pinchot's funny accent work is quite unexpectedly perfect for the Dupin stories, featuring as they do the semi-hysterical Prefect of the Paris police, "G____," who is wont to burst into peals of lunatic laughter whenever Dupin calls his sagacity into question. Pinchot's reading, with its special attention to G____'s eccentricities, makes the Prefect into an unexpected scene-stealer, and to good effect.

We tend to think of Sherlock Holmes as the literary forebear of the modern detective story, but Poe's Dupin predates Holmes by more than 40 years, and Poe's detective stories are really the first of the genre. But they're not only fascinating as historical antecedants -- they're cracking stories in their own right, and have lots to recommend them over Holmes, Watson and Lestrade.

C. Auguste Dupin is a dissolute aristocrat who lives in a crumbling mansion with his companion, an unnamed Anglo narrator who fills in for Watson. The two of them are weird Bohemians who keep the blinds drawn, dote on books, smoke endless pipes, and debate philosophy until Dupin turns his prodigious intellect to solving lurid murders.

The Dupin stories are less of a cheat than Holmes's tales: the latter rely on Watson not noticing the subtle clues that Holmes picks up on, so that at the end, Holmes can say to Watson, "If only you'd looked closer, you would have seen x, y and z, and come to this inevitable conclusion," leaving Watson to say, "You astound me, Holmes!" By contrast, Dupin is far more loquacious, and he generally recites all of the facts of each case to the narrator (though there are a few withheld facts), making it possible for the reader to solve (or nearly solve) the riddle before reaching the end of the story.

I found this much more satisfying than the Holmes stories, and played the game of trying to beat Pinchot to the punchline (I managed it with the Rue Morgue, but not the Purloined Letter -- it had been so long since I last read either that I couldn't remember how they came out). What's more, I found the Prefect's hostility and arrogance much more interesting than Inspector Lestrade's near-worship of Holmes (though Lestrade tries to cover this up, he does a poor job).

"Thou Art the Man," the non-Dupin story, is a lot easier to solve, but it's also much more of a traditional Poe horror story than the Dupin tales, closer in character to "The Tell-Tale Heart" than any of the true mysteries. Poe telegraphs the ending from the first paragraph, but the madness more than makes up for it.

Poe's Detective: The Dupin Stories (Amazon)

Poe's Detective: The Dupin Stories (Amazon UK)

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