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 with numerous twists and turns.
What I appreciated the most was the book's subtle humor. The first narrator, the head servant was such a jovial figure. Him finding the calmness and the answer for all life's problem in reading Robinson Crusoe, his loving restraint on ho he deals with young people, his trailing off from the main story line to tell his own life these were all just pure fun to read.
But he only told the first third of the story, the parts he was personally witnessed or was aware of. Then the heroine's cousin took over, whose self-righteousness itself provided the reason to smile at. She was so full of her religion that made herself a caricature of Christianity. From her the narrative was taken over by the solicitor of a seedy inn, then the future husband of the heroine. The family doctor's assistant letters were the next sources of the story, then it's back to the groom. Only after these do we start hearing from the detective himself who was summoned to solve the case. He is followed by the family doctor's letters and finally we are back to my favorite, the head servant.
Epistolary novels are great, because, as you can see above, the perspective of the narration is rotating. If the novel is written well, and this one was, then you get a whole new style, tone and personality at each switch, so you don't get bored with one. Wikipedia says that this book is the first English detective story as
"It contains a number of ideas which became common tropes of the genre: a large number of suspects, red herrings, a crime being investigated by talented amateurs who happen to be present when it is committed, and two police officers who exemplify respectively the ‘local bungler’ and the skilled, professional, Scotland Yard detective."
I am not a literary historian, so I can't tell, but all of these elements were certainly there in a rather enjoyable way. Thank you 1001 book list to pointing my attention to another gem. (pun intended)
There are some extremely suss medical procedures and diagnoses in there too - amusing from our perspective in this century. Also, the book is made up of bits and pieces written by various characters - all are highly individual, entertaining, and either very loveable, or hilariously hateable.
It's a great read, and highly recommended.
The Moonstone, written in 1870, has been said to be the first and best mystery novel. While that may be hyperbole, it is a very good mystery read, and it feels modern, despite its age. The story concerns the theft of a unique gem, The Moonstone. The jewel, originally prized by a Hindu cult, and seized from it by a British adventurer, passes, through an inheritance, into the possession of a young lady, from whom, it is, once again, stolen. Therein lies the whodunnit: was the thief one of her rival suitors, a member of the vengeful cult, a member of her household staff, or even, she herself, for obscure reasons?
The tale is presented a bit like a relay race. It unfolds chronologically, but, at different stages, the baton (a first person narrative) passes to a different character in the mystery. The characters are very distinct and vivid, and you can sense that Charles Dickens was both a mentor and close friend of Collins.
There's a bit of a corny likeness between, say, Dombey and Son's Captain Cuttle, who revers the taciturn advice of one of his fellow sea cap'ns and Gabriel Betteridge who idolizes Stevenson and the wisdom of Treasure Island. There's a similar lack of self awareness, and absurdity, between Miss Clack and Martin Chuzzlewit's "Sairey" Gamp.
The difference, though, between the authors, is that with Dickens, the plots of his novels seem to emerge from his characters, and afterward, you remember, principally, their personalities and their quirks. With the Moonstone, however, the characters, though memorable, are clearly subordinate to the mystery, and I think, in a year or so, I will most remember the storyline.
I was also intrigued, upon reading a bit about Wilkie Collins, to find that he was addicted to opium and even suffered from paranoid delusions of a doppelganger. It's interesting to ponder, in reverse, what influence his friendship and sufferings may have had, on Dickens, in the writing of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the shaping of the character of Jaspers.
A valuable gem stone is stolen from India, which brings cursed luck to those who possess it. Franklin Blake is instructed to bring the stone to Rachel Verinder, the niece of the diamond's previous owner... in a family that despises each other. The gem disappears pretty quickly and a series of narrators try to unravel the mystery. This book is considered one of the first detective novels.
The mystery was interesting and had several unexpected aspects. It is definitely a book that reflects its time period (which is one I particularly enjoy so that didn't concern me in the least.) A good fun read.
Collins rotates the narration among several characters, according to who was in the best position to observe each period of the story. I found that the first section, narrated by the butler Betteredge, dragged quite a bit before it finished. The next narrator, Mrs. Clack, was hilariously different, and each subsequent narrator provided a different view. However, the tone and vocabulary of most of the narrators were surprisingly indistinguishable. This technique could have been used to greater advantage to support the author's apparent interest in issues of social class.
The story and its denouement reflect quite a bit about Collins's life and England during that period. The reader might notice the places during the book where an installment ended with a cliffhanger. Collins was a colleague of Dickens and shared some of his tastes and techniques. The characters are a mix of stereotype and fuller fleshing out. Collins uses occasional humor to leaven the typically rather heavy dramatic tone of the book. Overall I found it a book to be appreciated more than enjoyed.
Like The Virginian, this predecessor of a genre never seems to fall into the same traps as its innumerable followers. Indeed, with both these books, the focus itself becomes something entirely different than the obsession it inculcates in others.
Though this book certainly contains a mystery, a set of clues and twists, and a brilliant detective, the focus is not on these but on the characters themselves. Firstly, there is the fact that the book is narrated in sections by different observers and participants. Secondly, there is the fact that the chief mover of the entire series of events is never the mystery itself, but the maddening effect that the unknowns and miscommunications have on the personal relationships surrounding the events.
The characters themselves, chiefly in the case of the narrators, are such discrete and believable characters that part of the enjoyment of the book becomes an appreciation for the author's knowledge of human behavior and ability to represent wholly different mindsets without any lingering authorial voice intruding.
It is not only the psychology of the characters and their movements which are represented here, but also the little shifting falsities of how they see themselves and how they are seen by others, none of which represent a truthful opinion, but all of which flow from the way people generalize one another.
Collins succeeds greatly at the old authorial adage that one should show instead of tell, as innumerable details and observations build up to give us a more thorough view. He does have somewhat of an easier time of this due to his method, it may be noted. By using constant and somewhat unreliable narrators, he may be seem to be telling, but in truth these opinions represent more about the narrator than about those whom they cast their judgment upon.
Also like The Virginian, Collins carries with him a strong and concise voice bred of that Victorian generation for whom Austen was the venerable master. He was also, it may be noted, a close friend to Dickens.
Another pleasantry with both authors is that they retain a certain humility, such that they never seek out more lofty heights than their prose may bear up. This is the reason their stories each stand as the foundation of pulp movements, whose writers were more concerned with writing to their own ability than to reaching for far-flung achievements they might or might not be equal to.
However, while those later authors attached themselves so much to archetype and rare coincidence to produce the strength of their work, the earliest hands to touch the page were fueled by human emotion and character. There is some sense of stereotypical characterization in The Moonstone, but it is tempered by extending even the joke characters a surfeit of humanity.
That being said, the main joke character in this book nearly drove me down in the few chapters she stood as narrator. It was not because she was too ridiculous, not because she was annoying, nor too cliche. She was simply too accurate to a type of person I loathe to meet or to spend a free minute with; namely: the self-righteous, proselytizing old maid.
This was the curious tangent which passed between this text and 'The Screwtape Letters', which I was also reading at the time. It was especially marked in comparison to the earlier narrator, who though simple, retained a charm and a welcoming humility in his various shortcomings.
It always seems a shame to look at the first movement of a genre, be it Wister's, Collins', or Tolkien's, as those creators who later move to take up the torch miss the point: that independent of the magic or mystery or gunfight being the main event, what keeps and impresses the reader is the emotional content, psychology, and strength of the pure writing, itself. Collins stands in good stead with the other innovators in this: that his work is a fine novel that happens to be a mystery, and not the other way 'round.
P.S. Some may point out Poe as originator of the mystery, or even point to older cases. This is an old debate, which I will not enter into, suffice it to say that Collins is the first example of a mystery novel, as Poe believed one should never write something which takes more than a sitting to read. I'm glad Collins didn't feel this way, but it's probably good that Poe limited himself. Collins also originates most of the Mystery tropes in this work, which is a tally in his favor.
On her birthday, Rachel Verinder inherits her uncle's infamous Moonstone, a gigantic yellow diamond with a flaw in its heart. Its bloody history reaches back centuries, and now it spreads its dark poison in a peaceful English family. Within hours the Moonstone is stolen and a long train of events is begun that will end in robbery and murder. Secrets will be outed, facades will fall, people will die... but a happy ending will be procured for the deserving. It just takes several hundred gripping pages to get there.
Of course there's some latent racism evident here; the dark and sinister Indians who are tracking the Moonstone are portrayed as slinky, evil men. At least there is Mr. Murthwaite, the explorer who says the Indians are a "wonderful people." But though they do commit murder in the end, I found it a bit hard that they should be counted villains for seeking to take back something that was stolen from their temple. They sacrificed their caste to do it, too. If the positions were reversed, the Europeans would be the heroes to bravely penetrate the uncivilized wilds to rescue a cultural treasure. Right?
I'm not sure I have ever read a sharper indictment of busybody Christianity than the character of Miss Clack, that inveterate do-gooder who, in her own words, is "always right" about what is best for everybody else. After her tracts and books are gently refused by Lady Verinder on account of their upsetting nature and her precarious health, Miss Clack peppers them all throughout Lady Verinder's house (on her couch, in her robe pocket, etc.) so that she cannot escape them. And all with such an odious air of self-righteous zeal. Christians everywhere (myself included), take note.
Another striking character is Rosanna Spearman, the servant who falls in love far above her class and kills herself as a result. Collins handles her with sad poignancy and I'll always feel sorry when I think of her.
If you have the Oxford World's Classics edition, skip the introduction by John Sutherland. I always feel that introductions should be written by people who at least seem to like the work in question. This supercilious piece, however, had a sneer all over it. No thanks. Get to the good stuff right off and leave superior guys like this one to talk to the air.
I think that ‘The Moonstone’ is pitched at the perfect point between crime fiction and sensation fiction, and it makes me wish that I could have been a Victorian reader, so that I could have read it when it was new, original and innovative, and so that I could read it with my mind uncluttered by more than a century of books that have come since then, and a few that I can think of that clearly have been influenced by this wonderful tale.
I am sure that Conan-Doyle read this book; I suspect that Victoria Holt had it in mind when she named her novel ‘The Shivering Sands’; and I am quite certain that Hercule Poirot’s retirement to the country to grow vegetable marrows was a tribute to Seargeant Cuff and his wish to see out his days growing roses ….. but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m not sure that ‘The Moonstone’ has stood the test of time as well as some of Wilkie Collins’ other work, but it is still a fine entertainment, and among the most readable of classics.
The moonstone – a fabulous Hindu diamond – is seized – some would say stolen – during the storming of Seringapatam. The taker of the diamond believes it to be cursed, and takes serious steps to ensure his own safety and the safety of his jewel. In his will he leaves it to his niece, the daughter of his estranged sister. And so the moonstone is given to Rachel Verinder on her 18th birthday. That night the moonstone disappears. The case is investigated by Seargeant Cuff, of the new detective force, and an extraordinary sequence of events will unfold before the truth of what happened that night, and the fate of the jewel, is made clear.
The tale is told by a series of narrators, because this is an account of the moonstone compiled some time after the events it describes by an interested party. He brought together family papers and accounts of events that he asked those who were best placed to report, to create a continuous narrative.
That device works wonderfully well, controlling what the reader knew without the reader having to feel manipulated, and adding depth to the characters by viewing them through different eyes. Fortunately the narrators are nicely differentiated. I loved Gabriel Betteredge, the indispensable steward to the Verinder family, a man of firm opinions who was nonetheless a model servant, who believed that all of the answers to life’s problems lay in the pages Robinson Crusoe. But I heartily disliked Miss Clack, a pious, sanctimonious cousin, blind to the feelings and concerns of others, but insistent that they must read her tracts. And I was fascinated by Ezra Jennings, a doctor who had been dragged down by his addiction to opium, but who was grateful for the chances he had been given and ready to play his part in uncovering the truth. And there were others; every voice, every character, was utterly believable.
Even more interesting than the narrators though were two women, at opposite ends of the social spectrum, who both chose not to speak out. Rosanna Spearman was a servant, and though I had reasons to doubt her, I could see that she was troubled and I feared for her. I nearly dismissed Rachel Verinder, as a spoilt madam, but in time I came to see that I had misjudged and underestimated with her.
The atmosphere was everything I could have hoped for, and the settings were wonderfully created. I especially loved the scenes set out on the treacherous ‘Shivering Sands’. And the story twisted and turned, and sprang surprises, very effectively. I remembered that broad sweep of the story from the first time I read ‘The Moonstone’, many years ago, but I had forgotten just how events played out, but even when I remembered it didn’t matter. Wilkie Collins was such a wonderful, clever storyteller that I was captivated, from the first page to an afterword that was absolutely perfect.
I loved almost everything, but I do have to say that the story is a little uneven, and that no character is as memorable as Marion Halcombe and Count Fosco in ‘The Women and White.’ But then, few characters are.
This is a very different pleasure. maybe a more subtle pleasure. And definitely a rattling good yarn!
First published in 1868, it is certainly notable for its innovative approach to story telling. Nowadays we are familiar with novels written from more than one character's perspective, but I imagine that such an approach was probably very daring back in the 1860s. Collins handles this device, which could so easily have backfired, with great deftness, and the reader gleans a deep insight into the various characters as the successive narratives unfold.
The "Moonstone" of the title is a diamond stolen from the head of a revered statue in a Hindu temple by John Herncastle, a British Officer serving in India. Over the following years stories about the lost jewel abounded, along with a growing belief that the stone might be cursed. Having subsided into illness Herncastle bequeathed the jewel to his niece Rachel Verinder, to be given to her on her eighteenth birthday.
The Moonstone is to be delivered to Rachel by her cousin Franklin Blake, formerly a great favourite of the Verinder family, who has been travelling the world for the last few years. He arranges to visit the Verinder household in Yorkshire, arriving a few days ahead of Rachel's birthday. On the day that he is expected three itinerant Indian "jugglers" turn up and perform some odd tricks in the neighbourhood, and seem to be "casing" the Verinder house. Franklin Blake arrives a little earlier and, after consulting with Betteredge (the butler and wryly sage narrator of the opening section of the story), departs to the nearby town in order to lodge the jewel in its strongroom. Before he goes he bumps in to Rosanna Spearman, one of the domestic servants in the Verinder household. We subsequently learn that she had previously been in prison after having turned to crime to escape a life of deep deprivation down in London. Mr Verinder, aware of this background but also swayed by good reports of Rosanna's reform, had employed her some months previously. In that chance encounter with Franklin Blake Rosanna immediately falls madly in love with him.
The day of the birthday arrives, and various other friends and relatives attend a special dinner. Rachel, who had known nothing about the Moonstone, is delighted by her special birthday present, and cannot be dissuaded from wearing it at the dinner table. Almost inevitably, the jewel is stolen from Rachel's room that night. Rachel herself is clearly disturbed by its loss and starts to behave in an uncharacteristically aggressive and bad-tempered manner. It soon becomes evident that she is particularly angry towards Franklin Blake.
The local Superintendent of police is called in but achieves little. Meanwhile, Franklin Blake has communicated by telegraph with his father, an MP in London, who commissions the lugubrious Sergeant Cuff to travel up to take over the investigation. Cuff is generally credited as the first great detective in English literature and he certainly comes across as an awesome character. Like so many of his modern day successors, he has his oddities and his querulous side. In Cuff's case it is gardening, and particularly the rearing of roses, that dominates his thoughts away from his job.
Cuff becomes convinced that Rachel Verinder herself is involved in the loss of the diamond, and speculates that she might somehow have incurred extensive debts, and then recruited Rosanna to help conceal the diamond and then smuggle it out of the house and down to London where it could be pawned or otherwise converted into much needed cash.
Various other misadventures befall the characters, and one year on the mystery has not yet been resolved. It is at this point that, in what was to became a tradition in whodunnit stories, the scene is recreated, and a startling yet also convincing denouement is achieved.
Collins was a close friend of Charles Dickens, and they collaborated on various publications. In The Moonstone, however, Collins displayed a fluidity and clarity of prose that Dickens never achieves. His satirical touch is light but more telling because of that. Nearly one hundred and fifty years on this novel remains fresh, accessible and immensely enjoyable.
In the novel a young girl, Rachel, receives a precious gem known as the Moonstone through an inheritance. The stone is said to be an ancient hindoo religious artifact, looked for by hindoo brahmins who will stop at nothing to retrieve it. While she and her family are still debating what to do with the gem, it gets stolen... After the disappearance a famous detective is called in to try to retrieve it, but he is led astray and the gem remains undiscovered until a year later, when the investigation is restarted and some unexpected findings lead to a startling conclusion.
Collins lets several of the main characters in the novel tell separate parts of the story, each person telling the part in which he/she was most involved. I like the way he gives each character a voice of his/her own and uses the stories to tell the different parts and to show different perspectives - at different points in time characters may or may not be aware of specific facts, making it an interesting intrigue to follow. I did feel that in his characterization of the main characters Collins is sometimes a bit over-the-top, but this also added an element of humor, so it wasn't very disturbing.
The character of Sergeant Cuff is a bit of a proto-Holmes - an eccentric detective with a love of roses and a tendency to spend long periods musing over the facts, but who also follows concrete clues to get to the truth. Though his investigations lead him to the wrong conclusion, this is not altogether surprising, since the final solution is not what you expected.
Though I did have a suspicion of the right perpetrator at some point half way through, it long remained unclear how he could have pulled it off and what happened exactly on the night of the robbery. Collins really keeps you guessing, but brings everything to a nice ending in which everything is explained.
~ Extracted from a Family Paper - I address these lines—written in India—to my relatives in England ~
I started reading this book in May for the RTT Theme Read - Historical Crime; carried on into June 2012 for the TIOLI Challenge #5 - Read a book with a title which contains a brand of automobile (make or model) (Moon); finished in July for the TIOLI Challenge #7: Read a book of *more than 300 pages* with *a multiple word title*
This crime novel was written in 1868 so the language and style took a little getting used to but I really enjoyed this book, even though it took me 3 months to complete it. It was not because I did not like it but rather it required a lot of focus and that is often a problem for me.
This novel was written in an epistolary style which I found enjoyable. Getting details of the story from several different narrators brought different perspectives and sustained my interest.
This book is considered to be the first detective novel, one of my favourite genres. I loved the way that the solution to the mystery evolved slowly and was not aware of the identity of the perpetrator of the crime until Collins revealed it.
Collins incorporated a lot of humor into this work and I like that also.
Miss Clack has to be one of the most foul creatures in literature, though I loved her proto-bookcrossing :)
I particularly liked Collins’ sly and heartfelt anti-racism. Not something you often see in an English novel of this period. If Jennings isn’t a self portrait then I’ll eat my hat.
This is actually the second time I read this book. The first time I read it, I focused on the mystery itself. I found myself trying to solve the crime before it was resolved, which is something I never really try to do. As far as mysteries go, while it may be considered the first great detective novel, with crime shows the primary focus on television these days and the proliferation of detective thrillers in general, The Moonstone is quite an easy mystery to solve. The twists and turns which may have kept Mr. Collins' readers on the edge of their seats waiting for the publication of the next installment just do not have the same impact that they do for today's reader. We've already seen them played out in hundreds of mysteries for them to be an effective plot device anymore.
This second read found me focusing on everything but the mystery, even though I did not quite remember whodunit. As I mentioned, this is as much a character novel as it is a mystery. As a character piece, this book is one of the best I've ever read. The lovable, aging but extremely loyal servant, Gabriel Betteredge, on the surface appears to be nothing but a grandfatherly type, until he starts talking about his wife and women in general, why they are the inferior sex. He talks quite bluntly about treating pretty house servants differently, patting their cheek and other rather sexist behaviors towards women. Yes, he is lovable but his opinion on women is definitely a failing.
Miss Clack is another narrator who is not quite as innocent as she professes on the page. Espousing Christian virtues, Miss Clack exhibits some of the most un-Christian behavior in the book. Comparing her actions with those of the mysterious but extremely devout Hindu servants, Mr. Collins is so subtly hinting at the fact that Christianity may not be the only, or best, religion.
In fact, the charm of this story is the fact that Mr. Collins suggests that English imperialism has a lasting impact on both countries and not for the better. Given the fact that the Moonstone used to be part of a Hindu idol, the suggestion as to the rightful heirs of the diamond could be debated forever. It is an interesting foreshadowing to the imperialism debate when imperialism did not truly become popular until after The Moonstone was published. To say that Mr. Collins was ahead of his time with social commentary and with detective novels is definitely an understatement!
In parting, this is such an enjoyable book. From a historical perspective, this is a great way to go back to the beginning origins of the detective mystery and discover just how many of our popular, beloved detectives got their start from Sergeant Cuff. As I mentioned, the social commentary, while subtle, is definitely worth discovering. I have thoroughly enjoyed my visit with Wilkie Collins!
Witnesses, suspects, and detectives each narrate the story in turn. The bemused butler, the love-stricken housemaid, the enigmatic detective Sergeant Cuff, the drug-addicted scientist--each speculate on the mystery
Because I love mysteries, I am sorry I waited to long to read this first detective novel.
Even though 1862's "The Notting Hill Mystery" and 1866's "The Lerouge Case" may technically pre-date 1868's "The Moonstone" as earlier detective novels, it is not likely that any other book is going to out-do it for the title of most popular early detective novel.
Aside from establishing what are now considered the standard touchstones of mystery and crime writing, it is simply entertaining to read and hardly feels out-dated. It even seems reasonably modern with its sympathetic portrayals of the house servants and the Indian Brahmins. Add terrificly realized characters such as the strong female lead of Rachel Verinder, the comic relief of house steward Betteredge and his go-to Magic 8-Ball of "Robinson Crusoe", the slightly-crazed evangelist Drusilla Clack, the opium-addicted Ezra Jennings, etc. and it is not hard to understand why Wilkie Collins will continue to hold his place in crime and mystery fiction history.
Although it took me some time to get into the book, once I passed through the first two narrators' sections, I could hardly put the book down, and so many moments and details surprised me that it was an incredibly satisfying read, and one I'm surprised I didn't manage to read sooner. I'd absolutely recommend this to anyone who loves the classics, from Dickens on through others, and anyone who enjoys mysteries--this was a fun one.
The Moonstone is a name given to a large yellow diamond stolen from a religious shrine in India during a battle between the British and the Indians in 1799 by John Herncastle as witnessed by his cousin John Verinder. The diamond carried a curse which brought trouble to whom ever possessed it.
In brief "The Moonstone" is a suspenseful story of the gifting of the diamond to a young lady on her 18th birthday in 1848, its disappearance the same night and the subsequent search for it until 1850.
The way the mystery is told is most interesting. Eleven different characters relating their role as well as to what they could personally attest to the robbery. This provides various views on what occurred and how the actions of others were interpreted.
In these narratives the reader learns of the history of the diamond and it's three Indian protectors, the gifting, the loss and the search for the diamond from a long-time servant in the country home of the wealthy family, the poor Christian spinster cousin who thrives on doing good work and spreading the faith. Two male cousins one a gambler and the other somewhat of a dilettante, both wishing to marry the same cousin. The wealthy side of the family, the family solicitor, the village doctor and his assistant, a police sargent who specializes in family thefts and roses, and a well traveled man with certainty some Indian heritage. It provides an interesting cross-section of life in Victorian England.
It is one of the earliest mystery novels written, and was serialized, likely in a newspaper, when first published. For those of us use to the pace of today's mysteries we may find it a little slow in places but it did not lose my attention. Collins is to be commended for keeping all the strands of the story straight.
Reviewed September 18, 2018
It’s told in an interesting way – first person serial. Each character tells their part of the story from the first person perspective. This is a seldom-used method of writing the novel, later to be made famous by William Faulkner in As I Lay Dying.
The only thing that is a little dated is the presence of opium in the plot – understandable since Collins was an addict. I suppose he was writing from personal experience. The treatment of opium seems naive, but what can you expect from the nineteenth century.
Highly recommended, and much more readable than some of the Dickens’ novels.