Thursday, October 31, 2013

Poe, the Innovator

By Hillary Waugh (1920-2008).
Writer's Digest Books.
1991. 208 pages.
Generations of detective story readers and writers owe a great deal to Edgar Allan Poe. In his book Waugh notes how Poe—in a fit of sobriety—introduced twelve "Essential Ingredients of the Mystery," ten of them in his first three detective tales alone:

1. The transcendent and eccentric detective.

2. The admiring and slightly stupid foil.

3. The well-intentioned, blundering officials.

4. The locked-room convention.

5. The pointing finger of unjust suspicion.

6. The solution by surprise.

7. Solution by putting one's self in another's position.

8. Concealment by means of the ultra-obvious.

9. The staged ruse to force the culprit's hand.

10. Even the expansive and condescending explanation when the chase is done.

In other stories Poe also introduced:

11. The hidden clue.

12. The cipher.

However, he missed one important mystery story convention:
. . . there is one feature of the detective novel, vital to its existence, that not only Poe, but all his successors overlooked for more than seventy-five years. That is the element of Fair Play.

Category: Detective fiction

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