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The Moonstone January 20, 2013

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Fiction, Writing & Writers.

T.S. Eliot described The Moonstone as “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels.”

While I don’t agree with Eliot in all particulars, The Moonstone contains enough suspense to keep readers turning pages despite writing prone, on occasion, to getting bogged down amid unnecessary or extraneous detail.

Offering more than a few “laugh out loud” moments, Wilkie Collins paints his characters in vivid, drab, and hypocritical colors.

Several characters share responsibility for narrating the tale, revealing unique quirks and idiosyncrasies in splendid detail . . . straight from each character’s pen:

Gabriel Betteredge (House Steward to Lady Verinder) is a delight; Miss Clack (niece of the late Sir John Verinder) is a tiresome religious zealot, best avoided.

The wry humor underscoring much of the narrative will appeal to lovers of Victorian melodrama, while mystery buffs will enjoy the intricate plotting and insightful characterization.

Collins dictated much of the story, originally serialized in Charles Dickens’ magazine, All the Year Round, while bed-ridden with rheumatic gout.  In the preface, Collins states:

I doubt if I should have lived to write another book, if the responsibility of the weekly publication of this story had not forced me to rally my sinking energies of body and mind, to dry my useless tears, and to conquer my merciless pains.

Opium, in the form of laudanum, provided Collins with relief from the pains of rheumatic gout; it also furnished the plot device used to solve the mystery.

From the back cover:

Stolen from the forehead of a Hindu idol, the dazzling gem known as “The Moonstone” resurfaces at a birthday party in an English country home ~ with an enigmatic trio of watchful Brahmins hot on its trail.  Laced with superstitions, suspicion, humor, and romance, this 1868 mystery draws readers into a compelling tale whose twists and turns range from sleepwalking to experimentation with opium.

The balance between clues and false leads will keep readers guessing ~ along with Betteredge, Miss Clack, Matthew Bruff (Solicitor, Gray’s Inn Square), Franklin Blake (intended to Miss Verinder), Ezra Jennings (assistant to Dr. Candy), Sergeant Cuff (Detective,  Scotland Yard, retired), Rachel Verinder (birthday recipient of the soon-to-be-missing stone), and Mr. Murthwaite (intrepid traveler) ~ until the thief, may he rest in peace, is revealed.

Aah . . . that’s better!