A wry view of life for the world-weary

Book Corner – May 2017 (2)


The Black Cat – Edgar Allan Poe

One of the advantages of feeding my reading habit via a Kindle is that there is a lot of literature that is available free and gratis because it is out of copyright. I downloaded one of those collections – 50 Masterpieces you have to read before you die – there are three volumes of 50 books which rather defeats the premise I would have thought – and whenever I feel that my immortality is imperilled I dip into it. You can never be too careful.

Poe is not an author that I have really sampled before but the Black Cat is an astonishing piece of work by anybody’s standards. Published on August 19th 1843 in the Saturday Evening Post it runs to little more than twenty pages but it provokes in the reader a wide range of emotions. On one level we have animal cruelty of the foulest kind and a savage example of uxoricide coupled with a desperate attempt and seemingly successful attempt by the murderer to cover his tracks. I won’t spoil the denouement but his undoing is masterfully accomplished with a fine twist and the reader cannot help feeling a sense of satisfaction in the way Poe pulled it off.

On another level it is a psychological study of someone wracked with remorse for the horrific crimes that he has committed and charts his descent into madness. It is also a fierce attack on the evils of the demon drink. There is so much going on for the reader to ponder and yet at the same time it is a thoroughly entertaining, if somewhat macabre, tale. Wonderful.


The Murders In The Rue Morgue – Edgar Allan Poe

I have already confessed my addiction to detective fiction and what I find most interesting is how the genre developed and the conventions and what are by today’s standards clichés developed. Those who argue about how the first fictional detective was have to take the claims of Auguste Dupin very seriously.

First published in Graham’s Magazine in 1841 this story has some of the features that are typical of this genre of fiction. There is a crime – in true Poe fashion it is gruesome with the elder woman decapitated and the body of the younger woman stuffed up a chimney – which is performed in seemingly impossible circumstances and in a locked room to boot. The case centres around window shutters, some strands of unusual hair and an unidentified language but interspersed amongst all this the author lays down a trail of false clues or red herrings which by modern standards may be somewhat telegraphed but are nonetheless diverting.

Dupin, of course, solves the crime – I won’t spoil the story – but he does little more than sit on his backside and deploy his phenomenal powers of analysis and intuition – the forerunner to the intellectual sleuth and both Dickens and Conan Doyle doffed their respective caps to Poe for his creation. Naturally, Dupin has a faithful sidekick who gasps in wonder at his comrade’s brilliance.

A word of warning, though. The tale starts off with a lengthy explanation of ratiocination, explaining that for the card player quality of observation is vital. It is a rather low-key and turgid opening that almost put me off but it all made sense in the end. And if you wanted to be hypercritical the story violates one of the unwritten rules of detective fiction that the reader should be able to deduce who the culprit is as they go along and the twist at the end is somewhat left field. Be that as it may, it is a great tale and one I am glad to have discovered.

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