One evening in
Paris, during the autumn of 1845, I went to visit a friend,
Auguste Dupin. We were smoking our pipes and talking when the
door of his apartment opened. Mr. Germont, the head of the Paris
police force, came into the room.
"I came to ask your advice," Germont said to my friend Dupin. "I
am trying to solve a very important case. It is also a very
simple case, so I really need your help. But I thought you would
like to hear about it, because it is so strange.
"My men and I have worked on this case for three months,"
Germont said. "It is a very simple case of robbery. But we still
cannot solve it."
Dupin took the pipe out of his mouth. "Perhaps the mystery is
too simple," he said.
Germont began to laugh. "Too simple?" he said. "Who ever heard
of such a thing?"
I looked at Germont. "Why don't you tell us the problem?" I said.
Germont stopped laughing and sat down.
"All right," he said. "But you must never tell anyone I told you
"The wife of a very important person needs help. I cannot tell
you her name, because her husband is a powerful man in the
French government. Let us just call her Madame X. Three months
ago, someone stole a letter from Madame X. She is offering a
large amount of money to anyone who can return the letter to her.
"We know that her husband's political enemy, Mr. D'Arcy, stole
the letter. We also know it is somewhere in his apartment.
D'Arcy plans to use the letter to embarrass Madame X's husband
and destroy his political power.
"As you know, I have keys which can open any lock in Paris. For
the last three months, my men and I have spent every evening
looking for the letter in his apartment. But we cannot find it."
Dupin stopped smoking. "Tell me how you looked for it," he said.
Germont moved forward in his chair.
"We took our time," he said. "First, we examined the furniture
in every room. We opened all the drawers. We looked under the
rugs. We searched behind all the paintings on the walls.
"We opened every book. We removed the boards of the floor. We
even took the tops off the tables to see if he had hidden the
letter in the table legs. But we cannot find it. What do you
advise me to do?"
Dupin puffed on his pipe. "What does the letter look like?" he
"It is in a white envelope with a red stamp," Germont said. "The
address is written in large black letters."
Dupin puffed on his pipe again. "I advise you to go back and
search the apartment again," he said.
About one month later, Germont came back to see us.
"I followed your advice," he said. "But I still have not found
Dupin smiled. "I knew you would not find it," he said. Germont
became very red in the face. "Then why did you make me search
the apartment again?" he shouted.
"My dear Germont," Dupin said. "Let me tell you a little story.
Do you remember the famous doctor, Louis Abernathy?"
"No!" Germont shouted. "Get to the point, Dupin!"
"Of course! Of course," Dupin said. "Once, a rich old man met
Abernathy at a party. The old man was not feeling very well. He
decided he would get a medical opinion from the doctor without
paying for it. So he described his problems to Abernathy. 'Now
doctor,' the old man said, 'suppose you had a patient like that.
What would you tell him to take?'"
"'Oh, that is quite simple,' said Abernathy. 'I would tell him
to take my advice.'"
Germont looked embarrassed. "Look here, Dupin. I am perfectly
willing to pay for advice."
Dupin smiled at Germont. "How much money did you say the reward
was?" he asked. Germont sighed. "I do not want to tell you the
exact amount. But I would give fifty thousand francs to the
person who helps me find that letter."
"In that case," Dupin said, "take out your checkbook and write
me a check for fifty thousand francs. When you have signed the
check, I will give you the letter."
Germont looked at Dupin with his mouth open. His eyes seemed to
jump out of his head. Then he took out his checkbook and pen,
and wrote a check for fifty thousand francs. He gave it to Dupin.
My friend examined the check carefully and put it in his pocket.
Then he unlocked a drawer of his desk, took out the letter, and
gave it to Germont.
The policeman's hands shook as he opened the letter. He read it
quickly. Then he put it in his pocket and ran out of the room
without saying a word.
"Dupin!" I said, as I turned to my friend. "How did you solve
"It was simple, my friend," he said. "Germont and his policemen
could not find the letter, because they did not try to
understand the mind of the man who stole it. Instead, they
looked for the letter where they would have hidden it.
"Mr. D'Arcy is not a policeman. He is, however, very intelligent.
He knew the police would search his apartment. He also knew how
police think. So, he did not hide the letter where he knew they
would look for it.
"Do you remember how Germont laughed when I said the mystery was
difficult for him to solve because it was so simple?"
Dupin filled his pipe with tobacco and lit it. "Well, the more I
thought about it, the more I realized the police could not find
the letter because D'Arcy had not hidden it at all.
"So I went to visit D'Arcy in his apartment. I took a pair of
dark green eyeglasses with me. I explained to him that I was
having trouble with my eyes and needed to wear the dark glasses
at all times. He believed me. The glasses permitted me to look
around the apartment while I seemed only to be talking to him.
"I paid special attention to a large desk where there were a lot
of papers and books. However, I saw nothing suspicious there.
After a few minutes, however, I noticed a small shelf over the
fireplace. A few postcards and a letter were lying on the shelf.
The letter looked very old and dirty.
"As soon as I saw this letter, I decided it must be the one I
was looking for. It must be, even though it was completely
different from the one Germont had described.
"This letter had a large green stamp on it. The address was
written in small letters in blue ink. I memorized every detail
of the letter while I talked to D'Arcy. Then when he was not
looking, I dropped one of my gloves on the floor under my chair.
"The next morning, I stopped at his apartment to look for my
glove. While we were talking, we heard people shouting in the
street. D'Arcy went to the window and looked out. Quickly, I
stepped to the shelf and put the letter in my pocket. Then I
replaced it with a letter that looked exactly like it, which I
had taken with me. I had made it the night before.
"The trouble in the street was caused by a man who had almost
been run over by a horse and carriage. He was not hurt. And soon
the crowd of people went away. When it was over, D'Arcy came
away from the window. I said good-bye and left.
"The man who almost had an accident was one of my servants. I
had paid him to create the incident."
Dupin stopped talking to light his pipe. I did not understand. "But,
Dupin," I said, "why did you go to the trouble of replacing the
letter? Why not just take it and leave?"
Dupin smiled. "D'Arcy is a dangerous man," he said. "And he has
many loyal servants. If I had taken the letter, I might never
have left his apartment alive."