Edgar Allan Poe Invents the Modern Detective Story

"These tales of ratiocination owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key." Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe created a new literary genre when he wrote “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Although mysteries were not a new literary form, Poe was the first to introduce a character that solved the mystery by analyzing the facts of the case. In 1846, Poe wrote to a friend about the popularity of what he called his "tales of ratiocination," meaning tales of logical reasoning:

“These tales of ratiocination owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key. I do not mean to say that they are not ingenious—but people think them more ingenious than they are—on account of their method and air of method.”

In “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Poe outlined elements that future writers would adapt and develop further. Poe’s fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin is a reclusive character who is contacted by the police when they are unable to solve the crime. Dupin has keen powers of observation and points out to his companion, who narrates, that “the necessary knowledge is of what to observe.” Poe makes clues available throughout the story, thereby offering the reader an opportunity to solve the mystery. Dupin was featured in three of Poe’s stories, establishing another feature of the detective genre–the recurring character.

Nearly forty-five years after Poe’s death, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle popularized the detective story when he created Sherlock Holmes, a character with peculiarities similar to Poe’s Dupin.

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

Last updated: October 12, 2017