The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (read through DailyLit)
Read: because The Woman in White was so darn good. (Wordsworth Editions, 464 pages)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (finished 1/22/10)
Synopsis (from Barnes and Noble): The Moonstone introduces all the ingredients: a homey, English country setting, and a colorfully exotic background in colonial India; the theft of a fabulous diamond from the lovely heroine; a bloody murder and a tragic suicide; a poor hero in love with the heroine but suspected of the crime, who can’t remember anything about the night the jewel was stolen; assorted friends, relatives, servants, a lawyer, a doctor, a sea captain—suspects, all; and, most essentially, a bumbling local policeman and a brilliant if eccentric London detective. Adding spice to the recipe are unexpected twists, a bit of dark satire, a dash of social comment, and an unusual but effective narrative structure — eleven different voices relate parts of the tale, each revealing as much about himself (and, in one case, herself) as about the mystery of the missing Moonstone.
Overall Impression: Seriously — after reading the synosis, how can you not want to read this book?
I just love Collins’ writing style. Both The Moonstone and The Woman in White (which I read back in 2008) are written from the various perspectives of its characters. Collins pulls this off with great skill — his narration of the practical and loyal butler Gabriel Betteridge is just as convincing as the pious evangelical cousin Mrs. Clack who is written as well as the mysterious, opium-addicted Ezra Jennings. Every character has his or her own distinct style of speech, mannerisms, and way of looking at the world and the case of the Moonstone. I think “character” is missing from a lot of the mystery genre, but Collins does an amazing job with each and every narrator of his book. This is considered by many to be the first Detective Novel, although we come to find that the detective isn’t as successful as future detectives might be. I figured out the “whodunnit” fairly early on, but I couldn’t figure out how it was all accomplished until Collins laid it out at the end of the novel. The end of the novel makes you realize the fluidity of the definition of the word “science” in 1850s (there is a hilarious bit of comic relief during their experiment at the end of the novel, courtesy of Mrs. Merridew). There is quite a bit of suspense, and you end up liking most of the characters for both their strengths and their faults. I thought Ezra Jennings was the most memorable and interesting of characters, and wished he had appeared earlier on in the novel.
I have The Lady and the Law on my bookshelf — can’t wait to tackle another book from Collins.
Pros: Interesting unique characters, a solid mystery, and a freaking huge diamond. Sparkly!
Cons: Quite long (although, if you’re reading books in five-minute snippets in your email every day, any book seems long), questionable attitudes toward Indians (or, “the Hindoos,” if you prefer), and the detective wasn’t really all that detective-y.
Extras: Read it for free at DailyLit. Has anyone seen the BBC version of the movie? Just wondering if it’s worth watching.
Other books I’ve read by Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White