Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What Was It?

It was a fearful page in the record of my existence, written all over with dim, and hideous, and unintelligible recollections. I strived to decypher them, but in vain; while ever and anon, like the spirit of a departed sound, the shrill and piercing shriek of a female voice seemed to be ringing in my ears. I had done a deed - what was it? *

Since the very first mystery flowed from Edgar Allan Poe's imagination, what was it and who did it have consumed both authors and readers.

From The Tell-Tale Heart to The Premature Burial, Poe dug deep until he found the deepest fears of both his contemporaries and modern man.

By the turn of the century, mystery had turned from describing horrible mysteries to solving them, thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Inspector Sherlock Holmes.

I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes ...with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evcidently newly studied, near at hand. Besides the couch was a wooden chair, and on the angle of the back hung a very seedy and disreputable hard-felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracke din several places. A lens and forceps lying upon the seat of the chair suggested that the hat had been suspended in this manner for the purpose of examination. ..."I suppose....that as homely as it looks, this thing has some deadly story linked on to it - that it is the clue which will guide you in the solution of some mystery and the punishment of some crime."**

Modern mysteries are not my favorite genre, but as a bookseller, I have hundreds in stock. What I do enjoy immensely are their titles - usually a twist of wit and magic:

  • An Unkindness of Ravens (Ruth Rendell)
  • Legend in Green Velvet (Elizabeth Peters)
  • Where There's A Will (Aaron Elkins)
  • The Quiche of Death (M.C. Beaton)
  • Murder, My Suite (Mary Daheim)
  • Dance Hall of the Dead (Tony Hillerman)
  • Footprints in the Butter (Denise Deitz)

And my absolute favorite (and more-than-appropriate): The Bookwoman's Last Fling (John Dunning).

But as entertaining as these titles are, no one compares with Poe himself:

Out -out are the lights- out all!

And over each quivering form,

The curtain, a funeral pall,

Comes down with the rush of a storm,

And the angels, all pallid and wan,

Uprising, unveiling, affirm

that the play is the tragedy, "Man",

And its hero the Conqueror Worm. ***

*Bernice, Edgar Allan Poe

**The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

***Ligeia, Edgar Allan Poe

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