The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone is a mystery novel published in 1868 by the Victorian author Wilkie Collins. In his day, Collins was well-loved and on par with Charles Dickens. But over time Collins’ fame faded. Only more recently has his works been rediscovered. This is the first book I’ve read by Collins and it was highly enjoyable.
The story centers around a mysterious, valuable, and possibly cursed diamond called the Moonstone. This gem finds its way into the house of the wealthy Lady Verinder, delivered as a birthday gift to the lady’s daughter, Rachel. The gem goes missing and a search ensues to discover who took it and why.
The novel is told by several narrators, each with a distinct voice, well-established biases, and varying motives. The use of multiple narrators makes the story exciting and the detective work misleading. Collins does a superb job of misdirection and intrigue. Countless times I found myself more interested in the characters, nearly forgetting this was partly a detective story. Solving the mystery became almost irrelevant.
The pacing alone makes The Moonstone a page-turner. The comedic value seals the deal. Throughout the narrative of the esteemed house-steward, Gabriel Betteredge, we are entertained by witticisms of the elderly man who had spent nearly his entire life in service of others. His thoughts on marriage are full of humor; his commentary on those involved in the case is delightful.
Especially enjoyable is Betteredge’s relationship with the lead detective, Sargent Cuff. He becomes so enamored by the famous Cuff that Betteredge gets “detective fever”. His excitement can only be quelled by reading from his favorite book, Robinson Crusoe. This book is declared by Betteredge as his “scholarly” guide and referred to often.
The Moonstone might not appeal to everyone as much of the excitement centers around what can almost be viewed as inaction. Even the suspenseful moments involve extraneous commentary and thoughts. But this is paced so well and is precise to the way the story is written. All the narratives are written after the fact, giving their authors time to contemplate and exaggerate what actually took place. In other words, not everything can be fully trusted or understood until each person involved has their say.
I can freely state I’m compelled to read Wilkie Collins’ other novels. And I might have to crack open Robinson Crusoe as well.
Pair this with a smooth cup of New Mexico Pinon Coffee.