William Legrand, the central character in “The Gold Bug,” shares some characteristics with Poe’s famous amateur sleuth, Auguste Dupin. Like Dupin, he alternates between gloomy melancholy and excited enthusiasm, which leads the narrator (also similar to the narrator in the Dupin stories) to suspect that he is the victim of a species of madness. The basic premise of “The Gold Bug” is that Legrand is figuratively bitten by the gold bug after discovering a piece of parchment on which he finds a cryptogram with directions to the buried treasure of the pirate Captain Kidd. As with the more influential Dupin stories, “The Gold Bug” focuses less on action than on the explanation of the steps which lead to the solution of the mystery.
Although “The Mystery of Marie Roget” also focuses on Dupin’s solving of a crime primarily from newspaper reports, it is actually based on the murder of a young girl, Mary Cecilia Rogers, near New York City. Because the crime had not been solved when Poe wrote the story, he made use of the actual facts of the case of Mary Rogers to tell a story of the murder of a young Parisian girl, Marie Roget, as a means of demonstrating his superior deductive ability. “The Mystery of Marie Roget” contains some of the primary conventions that find their way into subsequent detective stories, but it is the least popular of the Dupin narratives. It contains so much reasoning and exposition that very little narrative emerges; because of its length and complexity many readers tire of the details of Dupin’s analyses of the newspaper articles.
Literary critics have signaled out “The Purloined Letter”-the most ironic, economical, and classically pure of the Dupin stories-as the most brilliant of Poe’s ratiocinative works. Here the crime is much more subtle than murder, for it focuses on political intrigue and manipulation. Although the crime is quite simple-the theft of a letter from an exalted and noble person-its effects are quite complex. The story depends on several ironies. First of all, the identity of the criminal is known, for he stole the letter in plain sight of the noble lady; second, the letter is a threat to the lady from whom he stole it only as long as he does nothing with it; finally, the Paris police cannot find the letter, even though they use the most sophisticated an exhaustive methods of searching for it, precisely because, as Dupin deduces, it is in plain sight.
The various techniques of deduction developed by Poe in the Dupin stories are so familiar to readers of detective fiction that to read the Poe stories is to be reminded that very few essential conventions of the genre have been invented since Poe. Indeed, with the publication of the Dupin stories, Poe truly can be said to have singlehandedly brought the detective story into being.
Five full-length films have been made based on “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The earliest is the 1932 version starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. Mirakle and Robert Florey as Dupin. Written by John Huston with others, the approach is an expressionistic horror film. The 1971 version is a sensationalistic reworking, in which the players in a theater become the victims of real murders. The 1986 version, starring George C. Scott, boasts atmospheric location photography. The earliest version is probably the best, and is certainly the closest to Poe’s story.