The first detective story, Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), has an unexpected villain. When a woman's corpse is discovered, thrust up a chimney in a room that has been locked from the inside, the Parisian police force fudges its inquiry into the grisly crime. It takes the all-seeing eye of the amateur detective Auguste Dupin – the model for many of the great literary sleuths – to accumulate evidence and put the case to rest. Dupin arrives at an extravagant solution – the perpetrator in Poe's story turns out to be an orangutan.
In Borges and the Eternal Orangutans, the Brazilian novelist Luis Fernando Verissimo recycles the "locked room" story. At an academic conference on Edgar Allan Poe in 1985, the keynote speaker is murdered in his Buenos Aires hotel room. The door to room 703 was bolted, the chain pulled across. The spare key hadn't left the drawer in the hotel manager's desk. But Joachim Rotkopf was stabbed, once in the throat and twice in the stomach. Verissimo's dense, clever novel poses a double mystery. Who committed the cold-blooded crime? And how could he, or she, have got in and out of the room?
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