In Dickens’ classic A Christmas Story, the story begins with the line “Marley was dead, to begin with…” and thus commences a superb and long-retold tale of ghosts and redemption. “To begin with,” Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue has one of the most contrived and difficult to accept endings in all of classic storytelling. Editors Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec have assembled a group of writers to expand on Poe’s story and their collection was published this summer as Beyond Rue Morgue: Further Tales of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1st Detective.
The difficulty in Poe’s Murders is highlighted by the contrast between the confounding ending and the fact that Poe’s detective is so exceptionally brilliant for most of the work and Poe’s writing so authoritative. Included as the first entry in Kane and Prepolec’s new anthology is Poe’s original story, allowing new readers to be impressed with–and older readers to revisit–those gruesome (fictional) murders that took place in a Paris flat in the 1840s. The flat appeared locked from the inside, the murders required inhuman strength, and the crime leaves no possible solution; leaving the reader to hang on every word to learn how this pre-Sherlock Holmes genius-detective named Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin will unravel the mystery and catch the murderer. And then the murderer turns out to be… an escaped, deranged… orangutan. Thud.
So the challenge for these writers was to take Poe’s influence and create something from the ashes of Poe’s Murders. A typical anthology might have revealed the further adventures of Dupin as the title suggests. Mostly this anthology offers several myriad stories only loosely tied to Dupin or Poe. The value of the anthology is in analyzing what strange stories a group of authors could come up with. One of the better takes in Beyond Rue Morgue, Mike Carey’s “The Sons of Tammany” pits real-life editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast with Dupin against Boss Tweed in an 1870s political corruption story. Westin Ochse and Yvonne Navarro’s “The Weight of a Dead Man” is the most tenuous entry, following a fellow named Nate Dupes, who we read merely had a “famous relative who’d solved what Edgar Allan Poe had fictionalized as The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
The most over-the-top inclusion is Clive Barker’s “New Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Barker’s story is at once as artfully scribed as Poe’s original work, and at the same time just as baffling, perplexing, absurd, and still more disturbing than Poe’s. To that end, all the entries are certainly creative, but again, it forces the reader to look back at the source material. “To begin with,” we have this brilliant detective in this preposterous story. How far can a writer go in an adaptation or extension and still remain true to the themes and guts of the original work? Perhaps an anthology of Dupin’s further detective stories, without the bizarre tinge from the source material, would be just another anthology of Sherlock Holmes retellings. So maybe Kane and Prepolec’s compilation is true to Poe and to the vision of that great and mysterious writer of horror, but modern readers may find not only Poe’s story, but these further adventures, a little too inaccessible.
Writers Simon Clark, Joe R. Lansdale, Jonathan Maberry, Elizabeth Massey, Lisa Tuttle, and Stephen Volk also contributed to the anthology. Beyond Rue Morgue: Further Tales of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1st Detective is available in bookstores and at Amazon.com.