The Long Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe Transcript

Caroline: Welcome to Shedunnit. I’m Caroline Crampton.

When Edgar Allan Poe published his short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841, he set in motion a chain of events that ultimately lead to me, sitting here, talking to you about detective fiction. Best known in popular culture today for his creepy, supernatural, often Gothic stories and poetry, it is actually for his work in incorporating notions of scientific reasoning and deduction into fiction that we owe him the greatest debt. Without his sleuth Auguste Dupin, there would have been no Sherlock Holmes, and without Sherlock Holmes, no Hercule Poirot, or indeed anything else I’ve ever referenced on this podcast.

And yet I feel like Poe, appropriately, slightly lurks in the shadows when it comes to the ways in which today’s crime fiction acknowledges its origins. We’re treated to endless reimaginings of the Holmes canon, and plenty of stories that interact with the times and tropes of the golden age of detective fiction in the 1920s and 1930s, but there’s very little that I’ve come across so far that really gives Edgar Allan Poe his due.

Which is why I was particularly excited to learn recently that friend of the podcast Jim Noy was not only publishing his first crime novel, but that it was a book that builds on and adapts a Poe short story, “The Masque of the Red Death” from 1842. Listeners might remember Jim from the Locked Room episode of the podcast, in which he expertly explained the notion of an “impossible crime” to us, and so it’s appropriate that his book — The Red Death Murders — includes several such locked room, impossible scenarios, as well as plenty of other smart plot points based on Poe’s original premise.

“The Masque of the Red Death” is, appropriately enough, a pandemic story, too. It follows the fortunes of a prince who withdraws for safety into an abbey with his court while a “red death” plague rages beyond the walls, only to find that death somehow penetrates the locked rooms where the nobles are revelling anyway.

Grappling with both Poe’s reputation and his somewhat impenetrable prose is not an easy thing to do, which is why I was keen to invite Jim back on the show to explain how he went about using this source material to create his own story.


Caroline: What appealed to you about The Masque of the Red Death when you first read it?

Jim: When I first read it, very little actually appealed to me. I found it very hard going. Poe is… he’s not easy to read. I mean, he is 180 years old. His writing is 180 years old, so it’s actually very difficult I think to get through quite a lot of his prose, which is a problem when someone tells you this guy is a classic and you have to read these incredible stories, and then what you get is this very dense, very heavy, very sort of full on approach.

So when I first read it sort of really nothing appealed to me per se, but what I found appealing about it was that the setup to me sounded a perfect way to isolate a group of people and then have one of them start killing the other. I mean, The Masque of the Red Death is itself an allegory for essentially the abdication of responsibility and how if people abdicate their responsibilities, their sins are going to find them out.

There’s a certain amount of thinking that it was inspired by the cholera outbreak of the 1830s that Poe survived but, you know, it was, it was a global pandemic and so millions of people were killed. What would happen is the wealthy disappear out of town and goes to their country retreats and just barricade themselves in the hopes that when the pandemic passed through it would, it would pass them by.

And I imagine if you see people doing that, it becomes incredibly frustrating if you don’t have those options. Poe and his family were not particularly wealthy people and so I don’t think he would have had that option. I just found it fascinating, this idea because everything to me is a closed circle mystery if possible, what if we just isolated a bunch of people in a castle, they can’t go outside because of the plague and the plague’s going to kill them. And then what if they start dying and what if they start dying in these incredibly mysterious circumstances?

Essentially The Masque of the Red Death story is a ghost story. There is no rational solution, at the end, you get the personification of the red death in this baroque figure, who points at the prince, the prince runs towards him when they get within a certain distance, the prince drops down dead. All of the revelers tear the robes off of this figure, who’s just somehow impossibly killed the prince.

They tear the robes off to find who’s inside and there’s nobody inside. It was the red death all along, sort of a Scooby-Doo reveal in reverse. That’s essentially a ghost story, that’s essentially, oh my God, there’s something very eldritch about that.

And so I enjoyed writing The Red Death Murders, putting in impossible crimes because it contains the element of irrationality that there are, you know, three or four different murders in that, which is not just somebody walked into a room and stabbed this guy. We could get to chapter 28 and I could go allegorical. It’s still sort of has one foot in this allegorical ghost story. So I love that idea of taking something, which is pure fantasy, based around ghosts and the irrational and working it into the sub genre, which itself appears very irrational only to then have this sort of cold douche of rationality dropped on it in the final stages.

Caroline: And it’s hard to miss as well the call it contemporary resonance of people isolating from a plague as well.

So I can see how that would as a closed circle scenario that would draw you in at this particular time.

Jim: It’s a complete coincidence that I happened to write this during the Covid pandemic. The idea occurred when I first read the story about 10 or 11 years ago, and the idea occurred to me then. And I did a podcast episode where I talked about the various ways, like there were lots of little pieces over the course of about a decade that came together. So I read a particular Agatha Christie novel. I watched a Hollywood Western, things like this, that sort of these little ideas. And I’m like, oh, I could use that. I could use that. I could use that.

And then gradually, over about a decade, everything happened to come together at the time when a lot of the world was locking itself away to hide from it from a killer global pandemic, that’s pure coincidence. And I don’t know whether that will make the book more appealing to people or whether that will put people off, because obviously we’ve been living through various lockdowns and probably wanting to kill a lot of the people we’ve been stuck with anyway.

But yeah, it’s pure happenstance that my book about being trapped inside during the plague came out when everybody was dropped inside during the plague.

Caroline: So you mentioned at the start there that Poe’s prose can be quite call it of his time, impenetrable, 19th century and so on. So when you were thinking about weaving your own story into that narrative, how did you grapple with that difficulty?

Jim: That’s a great question. I essentially wanted to pay homage to The Masque of the Red Death, as much as possible. Had I not read that story, this book would not exist. I knew that I couldn’t write in the same style as Poe, but I tried a couple of things. For instance, there are throughout the book about 20, 25 instances where I have lifted phrases verbatim from The Masque of the Red Death and put them into The Red Death Murders just as a way to help.

Just keep me hewing close, I suppose, to what Poe was writing, just the literal words. There is one piece of direct dialogue in the whole of Poe’s story. And so I lifted as much of that line as I could, and actually put that into the mouth of one of my characters. The book has five parts. The name of each part is a direct quote lifted out of the story.

There’s a description of a bell ringing at the end of chapter two, which again is lifted directly from Poe’s story. So things like this, where I was trying to literally put his words into the book, I also wrote it under an Oulipian constraint, which I will never reveal to anybody. And if anybody’s spots it, they’re very welcome to tell me, but I sort of forced myself into this slightly awkward way of writing by putting a particular condition on what I wrote.

So that while I was writing, when I was typing out on the typewriter in the first couple of drafts, when I was writing on my computer in later drafts, there was this interruption of my native 21st century tongue. So that what came out wasn’t quite the way that I would ordinarily write. It was constantly sort of bending myself into this particular form of expression, as a way to remind myself that I was trying to do something different. I’ve never written a novel before. I write a blog, I write my blog in a very sort of conversational way. I suppose my distinctly did not want this to be a conversational tone of novel. I wanted that very, very slightly starched formality in the prose that comes from having to drop in phrases from the 1840s without them sticking out like a sore thumb. Those sort of two things really kept me close to Poe’s intent and Poe’s language.

And then it was mainly just trying to modify the settings so that the setting sort of felt realistic. Poe is very vague about the law of the castellated abbey to which everybody retires in the story. He talks about these seven rooms that are at odd angles. So you don’t really have any sense of how the rooms relate to each other or sort of how you can move through them.

And I was effectively trying to make the universe in which my novel exists as real as possible. So I had to go well, okay, what kind of a building? I love these rooms. I love the braziers. I love the coloured glass. I love the different coloured appointments and all of that, but how would this actually exist?

How is this functional in a space? And so I had to sit down and go, well, if you were going to retire to this abbey and throw these elaborate parties, you would know that the parties were going to be thrown. So the rooms would already preexist, but then you’d have to ask someone for people to stay when they weren’t in the parties, when they were recovering from the parties.

And then I sort of backtracked on top of that and said, well, if you’re inviting the landed gentry, they’re not going to be cooking and preparing the food themselves. They’re going to have to bring their servants. And so that’s going to have to be somewhere for the servants to sleep.

And then just very, very slowly I built up how this castle could exist in the first place, how there could be enough room for people to sleep, how it could all fit in. I put six coloured rooms in my story rather than seven. And then obviously, then how you protect it from the outside by putting a big old wall around it and surrounding it by a moat.

It was just trying to make every aspect of the universe of The Red Death Murders as functional as possible. Like, I want this to feel like an operational universe. And so it was, it was trying to just keep those two things. What has Poe done and then there’s this baroque over the top Gothic, incredibly unlikely, ridiculous story. And how can we bring that down to earth?

And how can we put these same ideas into a universe where actually people would operate and then these things, you know, feel as if they would really happen.

Caroline: Because that’s important, isn’t it, when you’re putting impossible crime situations into something that is supernatural and vague and Gothic. For an impossible crime ideally, you want a map and you want details so that you can eliminate explanations. So that kind of stuff you had to create for yourself.

Jim: Yeah, for an impossible crime, you want rules and you want to know what the rules are. There’s nothing wrong with the solution to your impossible crime being it’s a dragon, so long as you establish that there are dragons in that universe and that’s a possible outcome.

There’s nothing wrong with your impossible crime being it’s a ghost. So as long as we understand what the rules of ghosts are inside of that universe. And so the more you can make the universe itself feel lived in, and the more you can always sort of it’s putting dust in the corners, the more you can put dust in the corners of your universe, where no one swept for a couple of days and the more you can reinforce it with little human moments, like there is a scene in which the three main characters emerged onto the roof.

And one of them talks about the surge of dizziness that hits him from going from these very close, confined quarters to suddenly going outside where everything is such a long way away. And it’s just trying to make just little moments of verisimilitude like that shine through. So then when you also say, oh, in this universe, there are, let’s say dragons, or there are, let’s say ghosts, which are not the case in The Red Death Murders, but if you have them in your universe, people at least understand what’s possible and they buy into a bit more if the bits that aren’t quite so out there feels a little bit more realistic and feel a bit more observed. That’s definitely another factor. Yeah. I obsessed for ages over what they were all eating and drinking. And I had no idea where the water could come from. And so I thought I can just put a well in the grounds of the castle, but it barely features in the book, but it took me months to come up with.

I just literally just stick a well in the grounds of the castle. And then they won’t all die of thirst inside of three days. It’s just little things that no one’s going to care about, but they really matter to me.

Caroline: After the break — quoth the raven, nevermore.

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Caroline: You mentioned in the introduction to the book on your blog, you said you’ve managed to work four and a half impossible crime situations into The Red Death Murders. Tell us about the four and a half.

Jim: I came up with two original impossible crimes that to the best of my knowledge, and to the best of the knowledge of the people who I’ve consulted, who know about these things, Tony Medawar and Brian Skupin and people like that, I’ve got these two murder methods that have never been done before. So they are completely original in the 108 years since Poe kicked off the impossible crime with The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841.

And so I wanted to really lean into the impossible crime traditions. So in the locked room murder that opens the story a man with his wrist slit is found in a room sealed with string wrapped around a couple of nails holding the door shut. The solution to that is to the best of my knowledge, completely original and that is a full locked room crime.

There is a poisoning in there that which again, the solution to which I’ve never seen anywhere. And no one else has said that they’re aware of seeing anywhere. Somebody is found hanged in a locked room. So that’s again, definitely a locked room crime. Somebody disappears in front of witnesses to being chased through the revel rooms, the coloured rooms in the basement, and then other people are running from the other direction to catch this person between them.

And when they meet the person who they should, who they chasing between them, you should be that isn’t somehow vanished. So that was the fourth one. The four and a half comes from effectively the red death itself, the plague, which is the background of the book where someone is found infected with the plague.

But there is no means for the plague to have got into the castle in the first place in particular to have got into this person’s body where very clear again, this is what we’re talking about with rules. I’m very clear that it’s a blood to blood contact that has to be achieved in order for you to contract the red death in the first place. The red death kills you within half an hour once you’ve contracted it, unless you’re vermin and short typically is just rats, as far as we’re concerned, but anything else in human, any other animal dies within half an hour of being infected. And so someone is found with the red death upon them, they’ve been infected, but it’s not really clear how that could have happened.

Now I consider that that’s a borderline impossibility because there are explanations that could be given and there are explanations that you can’t fully discount really from the way in which the problem is parsed and the way in which the novel sort of fits together, you don’t want to stop everything dead and then go, right we’re now going to spend four chapters establishing that this is actually impossibility. It’s a prima facie impossibility which one could argue is not rigorously laid out as impossible. So I didn’t want to over-claim five. So I thought four and a half seems a much more modest approach.

Caroline: It’s also just more intriguing, I think.

Well, thank you.

You mentioned the rules and their importance to impossibility and the unraveling thereof. Were there any other rule-based ideas, so fair play being the big one that you knew you wanted to have?

Jim: Oh, it absolutely has to be fair. I was determined that you should get to the end of this. And once you know the solution, you should be able to look back and go, oh yeah, I was shown that.

Oh yeah. I wish I didn’t want that to be anything of the solution that I had withheld largely because I hate it when that happens in books. And so I worked very hard to make it fair in the sense that all of the information required for the solution is in the reader’s hands. I sort of underlined this by the key point where the last bit of information has been received, I put in a challenge to the reader, which is a very classic idea.

So let’s start, I think, in the 1930s, possibly late twenties where effectively the author interrupts the narrative to say, okay, now you’ve got all of the information. You should be able to solve the problem you should be able to solve the murder mystery, you should be able to find the answer to the questions are troubling the investigator. There were a couple of different ways of doing a challenge to the reader. One is just to say, okay, you’ve got all the information, so now you should be able to solve it. The other way is to say, you’ve got all the information. So, can you answer these questions? Cause you should be able to. I’ll be honest, it’s a slightly arrogant way of going ‘haven’t I been clever?’, because obviously you’re asking questions that you want people to finish the book and then turn back and go, oh yeah, I can see actually I know the answer to that question. And so that question is that one, so I can see how I have the information to answer.

But I largely think it’s a slightly arrogant way of an author pointing out how clever they’ve been because you go, you can now answer this question, but I, the author don’t believe that you will have spotted that, that you can answer this question. I wanted to put it in because I am a huge fan of these very classic era detective stories.

And it’s a great feature. I also wanted to put it in because I know the huge amount of work that went into getting to the solution. And I know what readers are like, I’ve done it when you guess the answers. I mean, you got. Yeah, I definitely solved that because I had a feeling. It might have been him when they came in in that chapter.

And someone said something about tapping our pipes. So I knew it was something to do with tapping out his pipe. And that was obviously, you know, see solved. It didn’t have a clue, you know, you go, oh, well you have something to do with the pipe. And it was, it was maybe, yeah, I knew it was somebody with the pipe. So I solved it.

And I was like, no, no, if people are gonna say they solve this, I want them to actually, you know, these are the questions that help you solve it. That was me again, leaning into just the tropes of the genre, because it’s fun. Because I mean the whole thing is just supposed to be fun. I had a huge amount of fun writing the book.

The intention is that people reading it have a lot of fun reading it and you get to the end and you go, wow, that was, I did not see that coming. That was a bit of a wild time. That’s it? It’s not, I’m not trying to write literature. I’m not going to be discussed in 180 years time in the end, in the way that we’re talking about Poe here today, I just came up with a couple of what I believe to be original ways of killing someone in a way that looks impossible and thought let’s have some fun. And so that’s my hope. My hope is that people enjoy it.

Caroline: I think that’s very much an underestimated, at least by readers, aspect of fair play is that it is meant to be fun, but it is a game it’s not a, a strict turn and turn about exchange.

The fairness lies in you could have solved this, but I’m trying to make it so that you didn’t.

Jim: Yes, yes, that’s it. I have had, I’ve been very touched by friends of mine who don’t read this kind of thing at all who bought it. And then I’ve got texts off them and they’re like, I finished your book. I had no idea so-and-so was the killer when I got the end and you’re like, well, cool. I mean, that’s sort of the point,

They’re almost apologetic. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. It took me by complete surprise. And you’re like, well, that’s perfect because that’s what it was supposed to do. So, no, I think, I think there is the aspect of, yeah. I mean the whole point of fair play is you want to bring the audience along and you don’t want to, you don’t want to suddenly turn around and go, oh, it was dragons and they go, well, I didn’t know there were dragons. How the hell, you know, that would be incredible. How on earth was, I was supposed to play along with this and I’m not surprised by that in the way that it’s an enjoyable experience based on the narrative. I’m surprised, but because I had no idea you could equally go, oh, the whole thing was, was a Lego set.

And it was just somebody playing around with Lego figures and making them speak. And so actually the way the room was locked was that he sort of built the Lego room around the guy, nothing wrong with that. So long as you set that up inside of the universe. But if that happened and I, let me be very clear that does not happen in The Red Death Murders, but if that happened, And you get that sense of, oh, I had no idea that was coming then I think that’s far less enjoyable with fair play.

It is much more fun to be able to go, oh, should have seen that! I mean, that’s why I’m 20 years deep into over a hundred mystery novels a year because you want to get to the end and you go, ah, I didn’t, I didn’t see that. That’s very good. That’s very good. I should have, you know.

Caroline: Let’s talk a bit about your 20th century influences beyond the 19th century with Poe. You say in the introduction to the book “in the tradition of Agatha Christie, ingenious explanations worthy of John Dickson Carr, and a complex plot to delight fans of Seishi Yokomizo” — three writers, I think listeners to the podcast will be very familiar with and excited to hear you reference.

Tell me what you got from each of those three and any others.

Jim: Well, I mean from, to take those three in particular Christie, because the laying of her clues is so beautiful. The number of times you can reread a Christie and even if the plot doesn’t quite hold together, that she is wonderful at throwing in something very casually are not making it very clear, but you suddenly realise that the end, but actually what you took to be a piece of character in this direction was just, just a solid piece of clueing.

From Carr, the same kind of thing. I mean, I think Carr is better clueing than Christie in certain regards, because I know for what I have read John Dixon Carr novels and something has happened and I’ve gone that is a clue. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, and I’m sure the guy is giving me clues.

Plus just the challenge of trying to come up with an impossible crime novel that makes sense, because it’s all well and good coming up with ingenious explanations for these apparently impossible murders, but you’ve got to have a plot that supports it. You know, one of the things that gets lost sometimes with impossible crimes is the reason for making them impossible crimes in the first place.

And so you’ve got to have a plot that supports it and Carr more often than not, his plots support themselves incredibly well and a lot of what goes on is well justified by the end results. And so I wanted to follow Carr’s example. If I can kind of take Carr as is very much the guiding hand. Yokomizo just because of the three translations we’ve had the plots are these delightfully baroque and elaborate things.

And as the plot of The Red Death Murders got ever more complex, I took Yokomizo as an inspiration because fundamentally everything boils down very simply, but there is a lot to keep in your mind as the writer, there’s lots of kind of keeping your mind, well, that’s got to happen in exactly that way.

And Yokomizo just strikes me as, I mean, he’s almost a Zen master of plot. You read The Honjin Murders or you read the Inugami Curse and it’s just this wonderful clockwork fitting of elements that work. And again, inside of these settings, which are ones unfamiliar, because we’re going back to, I mean, not quite feudal Japan, but we’re going back to a much earlier era in Japanese history.

And so there’s an element of unfamiliarity about them. There’s an element of familiarity about when, because he deals with the same sort of base human emotions of jealousy and lust and greed and shame and pride. The people and their actions were always very well motivated and I always had Yokomizo in mind because of how well he implicates the two, how you have the character interactions inside of this very complicated scheme that actually enables you to keep quite a lot in your head and keep it straight.

Outside of that, I mean, I very deliberately put some references to authors who I have just thoroughly enjoyed, who showed me the breadth and depth of detective fiction. There’s a Freeman Wills Crofts reference in there, there’s a reference to Hake Talbot, he wrote a couple of impossible crime novels , there’s reference to the work of Richard Austin Freeman who wrote the John Thorndyke novels that I love. So I put in other references just to authors whose work, not necessarily a direct influence on The Red Death Murders, but who have just made, like I said, I’m 20 years deep and I’m reading about a hundred mysteries a year and there are some people who really stand out and have really made that a joy.

And so I wanted to just throw in a couple of Easter eggs for people who are a bit deeper into this, like oh, I recognise that, that’s from a Freeman Wills Crofts novel. Ha ha ha, we know Jim like Freeman Wills Crofts, because I’m a huge acolyte of his work. So yeah, as direct references, it’s Christie, Poe, Carr and Yokomizo, everything else is sort of incidental.

Caroline: And those are all writers who were operating sort of twenties, thirties, sometimes onwards, you know, getting on for a hundred years after Poe’s original story. And although Poe is often cited as the instigating force in detective fiction, I sometimes feel like he doesn’t get referenced as much as say Wilkie Collins.

You don’t necessarily come across writers who were deliberately going on about how much they love him. Is that accurate? Do you think?

Jim: I think that’s very difficult. I mean, you still have the Edgar awards every year, which are named after Poe, you’re given a little statuettes of Poe. That’s a very prestigious association, I think how much that is directly influenced or directly driven by Poe’s influence on writers today, I don’t know.

I get the impression that a lot of crime writers today are very ignorant of this history of the genre anyway, like I don’t think a lot of people writing books in 2020 are terribly interested about what happened in the genre in 1840. Can you blame them? It’s a long time ago. You go back to the good, these stories.

They’re hard to read. Wilkie Collins is hard to read. There’s a reason why the general idiomatic, English or general written English has moved on from Poe’s very dense form of expression because we don’t use language in that way. So to a certain extent, it is impossible to get away from the influence of Poe because Poe was such a heavy influence on Doyle with Holmes and Holmes is such an influence on every single alcoholic detective, every detective who’s so driven by their work that they’re very bad interpersonally or every detective who has some, you know, some nemesis who they work against over several books. It’s all lifted directly from Doyle and Doyle was very much in the shadow of Poe. So even if it is at one remove, actually, there’s a huge amount that has crept into the bones of the genre because of what Poe did.

And so while people may not necessarily acknowledge a direct influence of Poe you know, it’s like anything you can, you can trace the thread back very quickly. It’s not like you go well, you know, John Kahn is influenced by James Lee Burke and Jamie Berg influenced by Margaret Miller and Margaret and aloud was influenced by.

And you know, you don’t have to go back through all of these different steps. You can go. Well, it’s probably from that person to dial to Poe or in some cases it’s directly because Poe put so much stuff in the bones of the genre and you can’t write a detective novel now for instance that doesn’t explain the central crime.

And Poe was arguably the first person to write it as a, as a novel of ratiocination. That’s an innovation of Poe’s and it was revelatory. And so that very quickly bedded itself as a foundation of the genre. So whether it’s a direct influence on whether people were aware of it as a direct influence, I think a slightly different thing.

Caroline: I think you’re right there. It does come down just to sheer readability, doesn’t it? That even in the twenties and thirties, you’ve got the likes of Dorothy L. Sayers is obsessed with Doyle and she’s writing ridiculously complicated Holmesian essays about what all the numbers in The Red-Headed League mean and all this kind of stuff. She’s not doing that about Poe, but she is still interacting with his legacy.

Jim: Yeah. because the cipher in The Gold-Bug is effectively the cipher and in The Dancing Men and things like that. There is a huge debt that everybody writing in the genre owes to Poe and to Doyle, because Doyle showed how to make that I mean, so readable, I mean, you read Doyle now it’s fresh and it’s vibrant, and it’s wonderful. And find some of the ideas were a little or a little out of step with 21st century society. But Doyle brought Poe’s ideas into the mainstream by making the prose still so readable over 120 years later. But I would say Poe’s readability is definitely a barrier.

Caroline: And would you recommend to people who enjoy your book to go and read the original story? You’ve included it in the edition, I think.

Jim: I included the original story in the back of The Red Death Murders is because the debt I owe is so huge. That’s why it’s red death in the title of the book in itself, also being a John Dickson Carr reference.

I put it in there because I just figured people might be interested because I write a little introduction. I say, you know, Poe came to be seen as the grandfather of the detective story, but he’s very much more directly the grandfather of this book because without that story existing, as it did, my book wouldn’t contain so many of the things that it does.

And so I owe Poe a huge debt and the best way to repay that is to acknowledge it and then give people the opportunity to access that story for themselves. I’ve added some footnotes on the stories about 20 or so footnotes, where I talk about how bits of the story directly influenced me and what hopefully people just read in the front of the book, because I would love people to read more Poe.

I’m not convinced that his prose is necessarily the best way into him. I think his poetry is, I mean, Poe’s poetry is sublime, which is, I think part of the reason why his prose has lasted as much as it has, because poetry is fundamentally built on powerful images. And so, I mean, you know, you read it, it’s, it’s a cliche to say Annabel Lee, but you read the poem Annabel Lee the first time.

And if you don’t hurt a little bit inside, I’m sorry, but you’re dead. Like, it’s gorgeous. It’s heartbreaking, you know, ‘quoth the raven nevermore’, everybody talks about that, but again, it’s this wonderful sense of eerie mysteriousness of great imagery of this unit. She pinch to two very, very tangible themes.

I suppose his poetry is incredible because he can conjure up these brilliant images through his poetry. It stands to reason you can conjure up these brilliant images through his prose. And I think this is part of why he has retained what I say retained his popularity. I mean, he wasn’t that widely read when he was writing.

This is part of why he is so popular over becoming up 200 years after he was writing, because I think, you know, certain images the pit in the pendulum, the telltale heart, the black cat. Even stuff like The Murders in the Rue Morgue, which has an absolute ludicrous solution and its narrative doesn’t work.

There are some superb criticisms online where they require a certain aspect of the room, which was just architecturally don’t make any sense. But all of these stories, as much as they might be hard to read, have some brilliant imagery that really stays with you — The Fall of the House of Usher the same, that’s wonderful.

But I think it’s a very much informed by his poetry. We talk about his short stories and his prose much more than his poetry. I think poetry is genius level writing and anybody who has that level of genius with poetry is bound to summon up something interesting in their prose, you just have to dig a little harder to find it.

Caroline: I think that’s absolutely right, because I remember being so disappointed when I read The Murders in the Rue Morgue for the first time, having read all of it for a long time and not ever having read it myself. And then coming to realise afterwards that the fact that I didn’t think the plot was as genius as I was expecting it to be the way it had been built up.

But the fact that it still works as a story, I think is testament to his writing and his imagery and the atmosphere he evokes and so on. The fact that you don’t put it down halfway through is because he can write. I think that’s right.

Thank you very much, Jim. That was a wonderful conversation. And I look forward to rereading the book having now learned where it all came from.

Jim: Yeah. Well, thank you. I’ll always talk about the writing of that book. It was huge fun.


This episode of Shedunnit was written and narrated by me, Caroline Crampton.

Many thanks to my guest, Jim Noy. You can get your copy of his novel The Red Death Murders at Amazon and find his blog about detective fiction at

Find links to all the books mentioned and other information about this episode at I publish transcripts of every episode including this one; find them all at

If you’d like more Shedunnit, consider joining the Shedunnit Book Club — I make two bonus episodes a month for members, or three if you join at the higher level. You can find out more and sign up at

Shedunnit is edited by Euan MacAleece. The show’s production assistant is Angela Sullivan. Member support for the Shedunnit Book Club from Connor McLoughlin. The podcast’s advertising partner is Multitude.

Thanks for listening. I’ll be back in two weeks with a new episode.


I hope you enjoyed this ad free episode of Shedunnit, brought to you by the generosity of Shedunnit Book Club members like you. You can find links to all the books mentioned and other information about this episode at

Many thanks to the new Book Club members we’ve welcomed since my last new episode: Ben, Nan, Sally, Ruth, Lourdes, Shelley and LaVonne. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Shedunnit is edited by Euan MacAleece. The show’s production assistant is Angela Sullivan. Member support for the Shedunnit Book Club from Connor McLoughlin.

Thanks for listening. I’ll be back in two weeks with a new episode.

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