Writing in the Cambridge Companion series, Peter Thomas argues that Edgar Allan Poe is the “father of detective fiction”. Discuss this assertion

Writing in the Cambridge Companion series, Peter Thomas argues that Edgar Allan Poe is the “father of detective fiction”. Discuss this assertion

Edgar Allan Poe is commonly regarded as the father of detective fiction in the three stories that feature his amateur investigator C. Auguste Dupin – “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842–43), and “The Purloined Letter” (1844) – Poe invented the detective story,1 a narrative whose “primary interest,” as A. E. Murch writes, “lies in the methodical discovery, by rational means, of the exact circumstances of a mysterious event or series of events.”2 Chronicling a search for explanation and solution, such fiction typically unfolds as a kind of puzzle or game, a place of play and pleasure for both detective and reader. The popularity of the
stories of Poe and his successors partly derives from this intense engagement with the text where, in the scrutinizing of evidence and the interpreting of clues, the reader becomes a detective and the detective a reader. Moreover, a detective like Dupin also becomes an author, who figuratively writes the hidden story of the crime. As a story that dramatizes the construction of a story,3 replacing the unintelligibility of mystery with explanation, detective fiction emphasizes the potential comforts of narrative: the apparent provision of order, of meaning, of a metaphoric map in time (with beginning, middle, and end) that seems to tell us where we are.
Yet even as Poe fashions the ritual of reassurance that is crucial to the genre’s popular appeal, he also deftly undercuts that experience. Just as Poe’s stories seem to construct the detective as a figure of order, they also critique that figure, subverting the opposition between detective and criminal and challenging the investigator’s innocent or objective viewpoint of the world. Ultimately, Poe’s detective fiction pushes its readers away from the proffered answers and towards a renewed investigation of mystery. Indeed, to uncover Dupin’s worldly motives for detection is to question the legitimacy of his solutions. To consider the detective as a force of surveillance is to glimpse how such supervisory acts of control help to produce the transgressive behavior of those seeking to elude control. To examine Dupin’s authorial management of his case and its characters is both to sense his oppressive power and to perceive how this apparent agent of order privileges narrative moments of disorder, shock, and disorienting sensation. At the end of each story, the criminal responsible for the ostensible mystery may be exposed and thus metaphorically vanquished, but the shadowy Dupin, an even more powerful and manipulative figure, remains.
The textual imagery of the Dupin stories highlights the self-consciousness of the new genre – how its chronicle of detection is a story of reading and writing. The readerly dimension appears most obviously in the way detection in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie
Roget” involves the study of newspapers; in addition, Dupin and the narrator consult a text by Cuvier in the former story and “a full report” from the Prefecture in the latter. Even when the armchair detective ventures to the scene of the crime in the Rue Morgue, he remains a reader, “examining the whole neighborhood, as well as the house, with a minuteness of attention for which [the narrator] could see no possible object.” A similar act of reading occurs in “The Purloined Letter,” when the reader Dupin visits the Minister’s hotel wearing green spectacles, “under cover of which [he] cautiously and thoroughly surveyed the apartment” (P&T, 511, 413, 695).
Early in Poe’s first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the narrator describes his initial encounter with Dupin “at an obscure library in the Rue Montmartre, where the accident of our both being in search of the same very rare and very remarkable volume brought us into closer
communion” . Here the search for an elusive text becomes a metaphor for detection, suggesting how the investigator is not only a reader but also a figurative writer seeking possession of a hidden story. That story (wrought by the criminal) is gradually uncovered by Dupin, whose authorial
power is signaled by the way his voice, in each tale, takes over the narration (begun by his storytelling friend), filling the disturbing space of mystery with explanation. In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Dupin alludes to his linguistic prowess by suggesting how the complete story can be fashioned from a few fragments: “Upon these two words [‘mon Dieu!’] … I have mainly built my hopes of a full solution of the riddle” (P&T, 424). The same story illustrates his skill with words as he pens the advertisement, a tactic that, in luring the sailor to Dupin’s home, suggests his narrative control over the characters in his case. Dupin’s management of the action, however, is most brilliantly rendered in “The Purloined Letter,” where the detective contrives several crucial scenes.