1- The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The story surrounds the baffling double murder of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter in the Rue Morgue, a fictional street in Paris. Newspaper accounts of the murder reveal that the mother’s throat is so badly cut that her head is barely attached and the daughter, after being strangled, has been stuffed into the chimney. The murder occurs in an inaccessible room on the fourth floor locked from the inside. Neighbors who hear the murder give contradictory accounts, each claiming that he heard the murderer speaking a different language. The speech was unclear, the witnesses say and they admit to not knowing the language they are claiming to have heard.
Paris natives Dupin and his friend, the unnamed narrator of the story, read these newspaper accounts with interest. The two live in seclusion and allow no visitors. They have cut off contact with “former associates” and venture outside only at night. “We existed within ourselves alone”, the narrator explains. When a man named Adolphe Le Bon has been imprisoned though no evidence exists pointing to his guilt, Dupin is so intrigued that he offers his services to “G–”, the prefect of police.
Because none of the witnesses can agree on the language the murderer spoke, Dupin concludes they were not hearing a human voice at all. He finds a hair at the scene of the murder that is quite unusual; “this is no human hair“, he concludes. Dupin puts an advertisement in the newspaper asking if anyone has lost an “Ourang-Outang“. The ad is answered by a sailor who comes to Dupin at his home. The sailor offers a reward for the orangutan’s return; Dupin asks for all the information the sailor has about the murders in the Rue Morgue. The sailor reveals that he had been keeping a captive orangutan obtained while ashore in Borneo. The animal escaped with the sailor’s shaving straight razor. When he pursued the orangutan, it escaped by scaling a wall and climbing up a lightning rod, entering the apartment in the Rue Morgue through a window.
Once in the room, the surprised Madame L’Espanaye could not defend herself as the orangutan attempted to shave her in imitation of the sailor’s daily routine and in doing so accidentally slits the woman’s throat with the razor. The bloody deed incited it to fury and it squeezed the daughter’s throat until she died. The orangutan then became aware of its master’s whip, which it feared, and it attempted to hide the body by stuffing it into the chimney. The sailor, aware of the “murder”, panicked and fled, allowing the orangutan to escape. The prefect of police, upon hearing this story, mentions that people should mind their own business. Dupin responds that G– is “too cunning to be profound”.
2- The Mystery of Marie Rogêt
Poe’s detective character C. Auguste Dupin and his sidekick the unnamed narrator undertake the unsolved murder of Marie Rogêt in Paris. The body of Rogêt, a perfume shop employee, is found in the Seine River and the press takes a keen interest in the mystery. Dupin remarks that the newspapers “create a sensation … [rather] than to further the cause of truth”. Even so, he uses the newspaper reports to get into the mind of the murderer.
Dupin uses his skills of ratiocination to determine that a single murderer was involved who dragged her by the cloth belt around her waist before dumping her body off a boat into the river. Finding the boat, Dupin suggests, will lead the police to the murderer.
3- The Purloined Letter
The unnamed narrator is discussing with the famous Parisian amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin some of his most celebrated cases when they are joined by the Prefect of the Police, a man known as G—. The Prefect has a case he would like to discuss with Dupin.
A letter has been stolen from the boudoir of an unnamed female by the unscrupulous Minister D—. It is said to contain compromising information. D— was in the room, saw the letter, and switched it for a letter of no importance. He has been blackmailing his victim.
The Prefect makes two deductions with which Dupin does not disagree:
- The contents of the letter have not been revealed, as this would have led to certain circumstances that have not arisen. Therefore Minister D— still has the letter in his possession.
- The ability to produce the letter at a moment’s notice is almost as important as actual possession of the letter. Therefore, he must have the letter close at hand.
The Prefect says that he and his police detectives have searched the Ministerial hotel where D— stays and have found nothing. They checked behind the wallpaper and under the carpets. His men have examined the tables and chairs with magnifying glasses and then probed the cushions with needles but have found no sign of interference; the letter is not hidden in these places. Dupin asks the Prefect if he knows what he is seeking and the Prefect reads off a minute description of the letter, which Dupin memorizes. The Prefect then bids them good day.
A month later, the Prefect returns, still bewildered in his search for the missing letter. He is motivated to continue his fruitless search by the promise of a large reward, recently doubled, upon the letter’s safe return, and he will pay 50,000 francs to anyone who can help him. Dupin asks him to write that check now and he will give him the letter. The Prefect is astonished, but knows that Dupin is not joking. He writes the check and Dupin produces the letter. The Prefect determines that it is genuine and races off to deliver it to the victim.
Alone together, the narrator asks Dupin how he found the letter. Dupin explains the Paris police are competent within their limitations, but have underestimated with whom they are dealing. The Prefect mistakes the Minister D— for a fool, because he is a poet. For example, Dupin explains how an eight-year old boy made a small fortune from his friends at a game called “Odds and Evens“. The boy was able to determine the intelligence of his opponents and play upon that to interpret their next move. He explains that D— knew the police detectives would have assumed that the blackmailer would have concealed the letter in an elaborate hiding place, and thus hid it in plain sight.
Dupin says he had visited the minister at his hotel. Complaining of weak eyes he wore a pair of green spectacles, the true purpose of which was to disguise his eyes as he searched for the letter. In a cheap card rack hanging from a dirty ribbon, he saw a half-torn letter and recognized it as the letter of the story’s title. Striking up a conversation with D— about a subject in which the minister is interested, Dupin examined the letter more closely. It did not resemble the letter the Prefect described so minutely; the writing was different and it was sealed not with the “ducal arms” of the S— family, but with D—’s monogram. Dupin noticed that the paper was chafed as if the stiff paper was first rolled one way and then another. Dupin concluded that D— wrote a new address on the reverse of the stolen one, re-folded it the opposite way and sealed it with his own seal.
Dupin left a snuff box behind as an excuse to return the next day. Striking up the same conversation they had begun the previous day, D— was startled by a gunshot in the street. While he went to investigate, Dupin switched D—’s letter for a duplicate.
Dupin explains that he left a duplicate to ensure his ability to leave the hotel without D— suspecting his actions. As a political supporter of the Queen and old enemy of the Minister, Dupin also hopes that D— will try to use the power he no longer has, to his political downfall, and at the end be presented with an insulting note that implies Dupin was the thief: Un dessein si funeste, S’il n’est digne d’Atrée, est digne de Thyeste (If such a sinister design isn’t worthy of Atreus, it is worthy of Thyestes).