Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fiction Review: Tales of Mystery

I’ve been trying to read more classics this year, though I got a very late start to my 2016 Classics Challenge. For October, I chose one to fit the season: Tales of Mystery by Edgar Allen Poe. This slim paperback (shown in the photo here) is so old and tattered that its cover price was originally 50 cents, and my husband bought it in a used bookstore in high school for just a dime! I thoroughly enjoyed this creepy and varied selection of short stories by the master of the macabre.

This particular collection includes eight of Poe’s better-known short stories:
·      The Tell-Tale Heart
·      The Cask of Amontillado
·      The Black Cat
·      The Masque of the Red Death
·      The Fall of the House of Usher
·      The Murders in the Rue Morgue
·      The Purloined Letter
·      The Pit and the Pendulum

I probably read all of these short stories many years ago, when I was a teenager, because I used to have a large compendium of Poe’s work. A few of the stories were vaguely familiar to me, but I didn’t remember details from any of them, so I experienced them anew with this reading. Almost all of them involve death and/or murder, and many of the stories feature supernatural phenomena, so these were perfect reading for the last week in October!

Of course, I remembered the basic storyline of The Tell-Tale Heart, but it still surprised me in its brevity (just 6 pages) – in my mind, I remembered the story carrying on for much longer (possibly through some re-tellings). Even knowing what is coming in that story, it was still suspenseful and compelling. The Black Cat didn’t sound familiar to me, but when I got to the end, I did recall its strange and spooky climax.

I think I was most intrigued by The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter, two stories in a series that feature an amateur detective and his friend assisting the police in solving crimes in Paris. I hadn’t remembered that Poe had written such classic mysteries that very much have an air of Sherlock Holmes about them (and their brilliant, keen observer protagonist). In fact, I found out that Poe is considered the inventor of detective stories, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective came along well after Poe’s death. The first of these stories is a classic closed-room mystery, with a twist I never expected. I was further surprised by the sense of humor these stories display and enjoyed them both very much.

Poe is an engaging writer, pulling the reader into the story, whether it is brief or longer, and not letting go until the usually surprising ending. Although written over 200 years ago, the language does not feel outdated or difficult. I was surprised that many of the stories were set in Europe, since I knew Poe was an American writer (I live near Baltimore, where he is a much-celebrated former resident). I enjoyed this chance to get reacquainted with the famed writer of mystery and suspense and found his eerie, unnerving stories perfect for this spooky season.

143 pages, Award Books, Inc.

(This particular book I read is long out of print, so I have included a similar collection of Poe's short stories in the Amazon link below)



  1. Poe is just about the only Classic author who reliably attracts teen readers. His books are often out and get loved by my students.

    1. Yes, that's when I first read Poe, too!

  2. I've been wanting to reread Poe for years, but never seem to get beyond The Raven when Halloween reading comes around. THis sounds like a perfect collection of stories--I like that Poe has humor (never thought of him in that light). My son was home from college this week and was telling me about the lecture on Poe in his gothic fiction class--apparently Poe did a lot of critical lit reviews and his first biographer was someone whom he slammed in a review and basically gave him the reputation as a dissolute reprobate. Now I want to read a bio as well as his stories.

    1. Yes, I was surprised by the breadth of his work, especially the detective stories. Give some of these short stories a try! The Rue Morgue and the Purloined Letter are the 2 detective stories.