Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story
Edgar Allan Poe introduced the world to C. Auguste Dupin. He hit on a winning formula.
Dupin was Sherlock Holmes before Sherlock Holmes. He a genius detective. He first appeared in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” published in 1841. That story is the first locked-room mystery. As Holmes might say, the game's afoot. Poe didn't give Dupin a nifty catchphrase.
The roots of the detective story go as far back as Shakespeare. That's according to historians Helena Markovi? and Biliana Oklop?i?. Poe’s tales of rational crime-solving created a genre. They wrote that his stories mix crime with a detective narrative. It revolves around solving the puzzle of the “whodunit.” It invites readers to try to solve the puzzle too.
The key figure in such a story is the detective. Poe’s detective also appears in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” and “The Purloined Letter.” They set the stage for that character. Dupin is a gentleman of leisure who has no need to work. He keeps himself occupied by using “analysis.” He helps the real police solve crimes. The real police are, of course, absolutely incompetent. This is like Inspector Lestrade, an officer at Scotland Yard. He is in the stories with Holmes.
Dupin smokes a meerschaum pipe. He is generally eccentric, like his literary descendant. He’s also unnaturally smart and rational. He's a kind of superhero who uses powers of thinking. This lets him accomplish great feats of crime-solving. The story's narrator is his roommate. He is literally following the detective around. But Dupin’s roommate is unlike John Watson. He remains a nameless “I.” This is true in all three stories.
Poe introduced a number of elements in the Dupin tales. One was the friendly narrator. That would remain common to detective stories, write Markovi? and Oklop?i?.
“The elements Poe invented are many. They include the reclusive genius detective. His ‘ordinary’ helper and the impossible crime. They also include the incompetent police force, the armchair detection. The locked room mystery, etc. All have become firmly embedded in most mystery novels of today,” the historians write.
Arthur Conan Doyle was the creator of Sherlock. He acknowledged Poe's influence. "Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?" he wrote.
Poe’s formula appealed in the nineteenth century because detective stories promised that reasoning could hold the answer to every question. At the same time they had spooky overtones. This appealed to nineteenth century readers' preoccupations with the occult.
The detective story was particularly appealing because it promised that “intellect will triumph, the crook will be confounded by the rational sleuth. Science will track down the malefactors and allow honest souls to sleep at night.” That's according to Ben MacIntyre writing for The Times of London.
MacIntyre also wrote that at the same time, there were nineteenth century anxieties about the Industrial Revolution. And new ways of living supported the idea that evil was anonymous and everywhere. These two instincts—"faith in reason and mistrust of appearance"—are what made Victorians love detective stories. It is a love that endures today.