Modern mystery writers owe a debt of gratitude to Edgar Allan Poe. Although he is primarily known for his horror stories, Poe also wrote a series of what he called, ‘‘tales of ratiocination,’’ which helped define the conventions used in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes detective stories, and which helped influence the development of the modern mystery. One of Poe's most popular detective stories is "The Purloined Letter.'' Originally published in The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1844, an annual magazine, the story was reproduced in Poe's Tales by Edgar A. Poe the following year. Today, a copy of the story can be found in The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales, published in 1998 by Signet Classic. As with the other stories that feature C. Auguste Dupin, Poe's famous detective protagonist, ‘‘The Purloined Letter’’ emphasizes the use of deductive reasoning—a specific type of logic that examines all factors in a case objectively— to solve mysteries that have stumped others.
In this story, as in other Poe detective stories, among the people stumped are the members of the French police force, who attempt to find a stolen letter which is being used for political blackmail. The police launch a series of scientific and precise, but misguided, investigations by using logical methods that are based solely on past experience and established systems of thought. Their investigative methods reflect the types of rational thought prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century. In the end, the police are unsuccessful in finding the letter because the thief has hidden it in the most unexpected place—right under their noses. Dupin figures this out and recovers the letter, turning the political tables on the thief.