This short story is the forerunner of the detective story, in which an amateur discovers who committed the crime through using his superior skill and logic when the police are baffled.
The key to this story is analysis. It opens with an account of analysis using the games of draughts, chess and whist as comparison. Poe writes:
As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles.
Monsieur C Auguste Dupin is the amateur, the analyst, who discovers the identity of the murderer of an old lady and her daughter. About 3 o’clock in the morning the neighbours in the Rue Morgue, Paris are awakened by a succession of terrific shrieks. The daughter is found on the fourth floor of the house behind a locked door (locked on the inside). The room is in the ‘wildest disorder’, there is a razor smeared with blood and tresses of long, grey, bloody hair, apparently pulled out by the roots. There was no sign of a body, but one was eventually found in the chimney:
and (horrible to relate!) the corpse of the daughter, head downward, was dragged therefrom: it having been thus forced up the narrow aperture for a considerable distance.
The body of the mother is found in the yard at the rear of the building ‘with her throat so entirely cut that, upon an attempt to raise her, the head fell off.’
Both bodies showed signs of brutal mutilation, vividly described by Poe. There are several people who gave evidence all differing about the nationality of the voices that they heard coming from the building. There is seemingly no way that the murderer could have either entered or left the room, or indeed the building. Dupin with his superior analytical skill manages to uncover the fantastical sequence of events that resulted in the murders and establishes the identity of the killer.
Poe’s style is detailed and to match the character of Dupin is detached and dispassionate. Apart from the horrific details of the state of the bodies there is nothing macabre in this tale. I could guess the identity of the murderer, but I think that’s because I’ve seen films and read books with a similar storyline – lifted from Poe, I now suspect. Dupin is not a particular likeable detective, but he uses his little grey cells in a manner much like Agatha Christie’s Poirot and, of course, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.