Authorities all agree that the father of detective fiction is Edgar Allan Poe and that his first-born was ‘‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’’ which appeared in the pages of Graham’s Magazine in April of 1841. There had been forerunners of Poe’s detective Monsieur Dupin. The British detective writer Dorothy L. Sayers claimed that the romances of James Fenimore Cooper relating the pursuits of Leatherstocking in the American forests constitute a variety of detection fiction. Other critics, noting the emphasis in detection fiction on revelation of evil design, allege that the roots of the family tree lie in biblical tales. Poe retains his priority, however, because he assembled motifs previously employed for describing crime or its detection into a narrative structure centrally concerned, rather than incidentally so, with presentation of the criminal problem, examination of the evidence, and a process of reasoning toward solution of the problem.
In three short stories—‘‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’’ ‘‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’’ (1842–43), and ‘‘The Purloined Letter’’ (1845)—Poe created the formulas and model that have prevailed ever since. The formulas include use of a sidekick to narrate the story; the application of analytical reasoning by a ‘‘great’’ detective, whose accomplishment appears to be a consequence of his eccentricity and his position as an outsider in contrast to the mediocre insiders in the official police; and the thematic indication that the mental powers of the detective can correct