Again, this post should have been written like anons ago, but as I have been explaining, practically in all my posts of May, that, Travel, illness, weddings and other social events kind of got me completely off tracked….however, I am back and like they say, lets get the show moving. As part of 12 Months Classical Reading Challenge, where the April theme was “A classic you’ve seen the movie/miniseries/TV show of”, I read Murders at Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe. Now, as God be my witness, with so many films and television shows based on books, I have no idea why at that point I was penning the list did I choose this one! Except, that I made the list right after the Winter holidays, where I spend another film watching marathon on every single film starring Val Kilmer. To take a minor detour from the usual book review post, let me quickly give you a background – I was 8 when I saw Top Gun….it was nearly 5 years since it had originally be released in US, but India was still playing catch up. A cousin of my best friend had gotten a VCD of film as a gift to her and we sat down to watch something that had been cool in US 6-7 years back! Oh! Well! While my best friend drooled over Tom Cruise (natually) I was completely mesmerized by the golden haired gum chewing bad boy – Val Kilmer. I feel in love and I am still in love though I know he is old and well not as happening as he used to be, but hey…this true love and true love abides! Back to present day, while I books own my soul and I do not like films too much, there are times when I indulge and Val Kilmer movie marathon was one such indulgence. For those who do not know his film credits by heart. The Murders at Rue Morgue was a made for television movie in 1986 and had a pretty impressive star cast of George C. Scott, Rebecca De Mornay, besides Kilmer. While I saw the film, I had never read the novella and it made sense to read Poe as part of this event!
The Murder at Rue Morgue begins with the narrator sharing with the readers a theory on analytic and analysis and how the latter influences the former and then introduces us to his friend Auguste Dupin, a brilliant man not particularly social with certain eccentricities with whom the narrator shares an apartment. Their daily routines of reading through the day and writing and debating and walking the streets of Paris in the night, is disturbed as the news of the gruesome double murder of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter in the Rue Morgue, erupts in the city. The details of murder are bizarre and grotesque – the Madame L’Espanaye throat is badly cut that her head is barely attached and her 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. The neighbors who heard the screams of the two women and ran into the house claim that they heard two voices talking – one in French and the other in another language, which each neighbor accounted for differently; one called it Italian, another Spanish, yet another English and another said Russian. There seemed no clear motive for murder either ; the mother and daughter were quite retiring ladies who saw very few people, but shared a mutual affection. It was an interesting fact that Madame L’Espanaye had made a withdrawal of $4000 a day before her murder, but the money was found stewen all over the chamber. The police arrested the clerk who worked in the bank and has escorted Madame L’Espanaye back to her house, after she made the withdrawal, but they are unable to establish a motive and most importantly explain the murders. Dupin who had received a favor from the bank clerk starts his investigation to clear the latter’s name and reveal a most unusual and improbable events that led to the murders.
This was the first tale where Poe had introduced his now famous Dupin and he does full justice to his character. Dupin is not flamboyant like his competitor Mr. Holmes and he does not display any habits like violin playing or indulging in drugs. He is however eccentric, anti-social, connoisseur of books, with brilliance that like a streak of bright light hurtling at you. The mental processes which Poe showcases through Dupin are steeped in psychology and human behavior and the reader has to pay very close attention to all the details to genuinely enjoy the marvels of a brilliant mind. The novella is not a nail biting mystery, where you are hanging on by each page, but a slow revelation in intellectual persistence and layer by layer, the mystery is revealed. The conclusion, I thought both for the film and book was a bit exotic and sensational – but then considering the time and audience the books were being written for, it seems to also kind of fall in place. The language is simple, but since Poe uses a lot of psychological analysis in moving his plot forward, it is not a breezy mystery read to be rushed through! A very fine read and though I have not yet given up my devotion to Holmes, I have every intention of exploring a bit more of Mr. Dupin’s mind!
A final P.S. note before I end this post – this film is the an example of very reason why I do not like watching films based on books! On reading the novella, I discovered there is no Horace (Val Kilmer) and Dupin played by Scott is an old retired police officer who was discharged from the police force for disagreeing with the chief! There is his daughter played by De Mornay who is engaged to philandering but innocent of the murder bank clerk! I understand taking artistic liberties, but this is just stretching the whole liberty to a new height!! Stick to the books I say!