Andrea Goulet, Legacies of the Rue Morgue (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2015) 251 pp. $65.00 Hb. ISBN 978-0-8122-4779-4
Legacies of the Rue Morgue takes the renowned Edgar Allan Poe tale 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' as a foundational framework and traces the developing representation of space, violence and state in French crime fiction, spanning serial noir in the 1860s to the recent incarnations of cyberpunk today. Arguing that Poe's influential tale of an exotic beast, bloodshed and the application of science to the study of a seemingly unsolvable crime marks the birth of crime fiction, Goulet highlights the inability to detach time from place, or location from the development of fiction.
The key claim made by Goulet is that it is not possible to explore crime fiction without exploring the wider context in which such fiction was set and produced. This includes developments in cartography, geology and paleontology, disciplines which played an important role in developing the fundamental tension within the genre, and provide the thrilling contradiction between bloody violence and rational, scientific investigation, typified in Poe's electrifying tale. In this way crime fiction, as opposed to any other genre, has a critical investment in time and a linkage between the scene of the crime and the history involved, with the past and present being inextricably entwined, a tension highlighted by Goulet who states that a traumatic past imprints itself on the space of the present. Goulet has divided Legacies of the Rue Morgue into three sections, archaeologies, intersections and cartographies.
Part One, 'Archaeologies' explores fears of underground crime and the threat this poses to those who reside above. Exploring the significance of the catacombs of Paris, 'Quarries and Catacombs' is a fascinating exploration of the extensive network running under the streets of Paris. For those unfamiliar with the catacombs this chapter serves as a useful introduction explaining the ways in which the catacombs came to be and also their continuing relevance to the city. Goulet intricately weaves this history into seminal works of crime fiction which use this dark setting as a means of exploring the darkness of the human heart. These works include that of Berthet whose work Les Catacombes de Paris, uses the uneasy tension between those on the surface who fear the unknown horrors of the underground terrain and a band of robbers who have evaded capture by hiding in the complex networks crisscrossing the city. These fears are both Freudian and geological, according to Goulet, with catacombs and ghosts creating a constellation of anxiety. Moving into the twentieth century, Fantômas: Le bouquet tragique features a protagonist who uses his subject's alienation to create a ghoulish army housed in the darkness of the catacombs, creepily glimpsed by those who live above. These stories use the catacombs as a metaphor for the past and the secrets we keep hidden, lying malevolently underground in the darkness until disturbed at which point it erupts into the world above, spreading destruction and violence.
Part One also explores the significance of paleohistory on the development of creative works following the exposure of ancient bones during modern construction work. This chapter highlights the overlap between the seismic geological shifts occurring as a result of this construction and the seismic social shift in the face of industrialisation and the march towards modernity. Using titles including Le Parfum de la dame en noir this chapter identifies the importance of the evolutionary mirror held up by discovery of ancient remains which 'troubles our sense of difference' from those of a criminal disposition.
Part Two, 'Intersections' explores the so-called street name mysteries and private versus public violence. Spanning fiction from 1867-2001, Goulet uses this brief section as an interlude between 'Archaeologies and Cartographies' to explore Poe's legacy. The essence of street name mysteries, according to Goulet, is a focus on the bi-axial intersection between public and private life and the past and present. This chapter serves to reinforce the inability of fiction to exist separately from its context, whether that context is social, political or historical.
Part Three, 'Cartographies' explores the use of maps and grids as devices within fiction to explore the significance of location in the situating of events. Authors featured in this section include Emile Gaboriau, the 'father of French fiction', who was one of the first to include printed maps in his work, thus thoroughly locating the story within a distinct geographical space. Goulet also identifies how the use of maps reinforces the notion of the physical space as an accomplice to criminality, highlighted in the seedy cabarets featured in Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq. Moving into more recent fiction, Goulet also explores the impact of technological and social innovation on Maurice Dantec's protagonist in Babylon Babies. Taking the idea of detection into a futuristic world filled with biological warfare, destruction and the looming reality of a post human world, this tale moves crime fiction into the future and explores the potential expansion of this much-loved genre.
Covering themes including the insidious tendrils of the past and its often sinister impact on the present, the endless striding forward of time and modernity which renders change a necessity and the use of geological presentations as metaphor for the haunting traumas inflicting chaos on the human psyche, Legacies of the Rue Morgue is a comprehensive, extensive overview of French fiction. Placing seminal work within social, political and geographical contexts, Goulet underlines the significance of wider chasms in national identity, tensions between public consciousness and scientific developments and the enduring human desire to read about violence and mayhem. Whilst it is not an easy read which can be dipped in and out of at will, there is a wealth of knowledge presented in a well-structured, cohesive work. It is clear that Goulet has researched extensively and has drawn on a range of work to highlight the breadth of fiction influenced by that first detective mystery so macabrely dreamed by Edgar Allen Poe. Suitable for those with little knowledge about the topic, but detailed enough to capture the attention of aficionados, Legacies of the Rue Morgue is an entertaining and informative read, written in an accessible way by someone with a clear passion for the captivating genre of crime fiction.
Megan Kenny, University of Huddersfield