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Poe:  The Foundation of Modern Crime Forensics
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Daniel Stashower
The Beautiful Cigar Girl:  Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe and the Invention of Murder (NY:  Dutton (Penguin), 2006, 400p.)

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This is an excellent volume centered around the sensational murder of a young woman in New York in 1841, which became a world sensation and the most famous unsolved murder in the the world.  This story became a shaping force in Poe's career and changed the history of police investigation.

I remember having to read the marvelous sonorous poem "The Raven" in an early literature class in junior high school. I talked to my father about the poem and Poe's writing. He told me about Edgar Allen Poe, and the problems he had with alcohol and how this seemed to affect the focus of his writing.

My dad had a volume of Poe stories, which I then proceded to read. Poe's most famous work is "The Raven."  I remember seeing a short film of this, a fascinating depiction of Poe's eerie and refelctive poem.

But Poe's murder mysteries and macabre stories were his main product. Many of these were made famous for a later generation by actors Vincent Price and Peter Lorie, who brought his stories to life on screen and TV. I have a DVD version of a famous Poe title I saw in early life on TV, an old movie of his famous Parisan murder mystery Murders in the the Rue Morgue.

Edgar Allan Poe, a writer and editor in New York at the time, wrote a novellette about the story, reviewing the mystery and all the facts in detail, presenting it as a mystery set in Paris, investigated by Inspector Dupin, whom he had created for the famous Murders in the the Rue Morgue.

Stashower tells the story of Mary Rogers life and murder, the life story of Edgar Allan Poe with its self-destructive ups and downs and burst of poetic and narrative genius.  He intertwines these two life stories around the mystery of the murder and the events of culture and history in New York and the western world.  This detailed and riveting story itself reads like one of Poe's suspense thrillers.

Stashower reviews other stories of Mary Roger's death by other authors and the tumultuous social revolution it led to, in the reformation of the New York police system.  Social resentment over the lack of solution to this murder continued for years after the event, leading to the establishment of the first professional and full time police force for New York City in 1845.

Stashower discusses specific influences Poe had on other writers worldwide.  The first Sherlock Holmes mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a rework of one of Poe's most famous short-story mysteries, “The Purloined Letter.”  Many characteristics of Holmes were based directly on Poe's character Inspector Dupin.

Poe was the first to make use of the deductive logic we so take for granted in murder mysteries now.  He details how this story grabbed Poe's psyche and shaped the significant last segment of Poe's productive career, and thus laid the foundation for modern forensic investigation, not just in novels, but in actual police work.

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Frist review notes written May 2011
Final review posted on OJTR and Amazon 6 July 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2011 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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