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A yellow diamond with a curse on it; a young girl trying to choose between two suitors; one of the first detectives in fiction and more twists and turns in the plot than you can shake a stick at not to speak of a huge cast of characters and multiple narrators and you have a fascinating story of theft and murder.

I was surprised how modern this book still is even though it was published over a hundred years ago. I was especially struck by the conversations between Rachel Verrinder and Franklin Blake – her on/off fiancé. I thought the author caught the different voices of his narrators very well indeed and I was never in any doubt who was narrating the story. This is well worth reading even today and it puts some modern crime novelists in the shade.
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on 30 March 2015
Recommended to me by a friend as essential reading after I'd enjoyed "The Suspicions of Mr Whicher" by Kate Summerscale, as one of the blueprints for the detective fiction genre. I found "The Moonstone" to be a real page-turner - a cast of very engaging characters, not all of whom are particularly likeable (step forward the wonderfully awful Miss Clack); a clever plot with cliffhangers a-plenty; and a satisfactory dénouement.

I particularly enjoyed the style of using several different narrators throughout the book to add different viewpoints of the same event, thereby gradually revealing the story and adding twists where previous narrators have omitted key information to suit their own ends. This technique can have the tendency to be clumsy and repetitive, but it was very effective in this novel.

There's also quite a refreshing portrayal of the female characters in this story for the period in which is was written (1860s) - whilst there are some stereotypical Victorian gender roles presented in the views of some of the male characters and the aforementioned Miss Clack, these are often presented in a satirical way so that the reader is invited to laugh at these strict views. The female protagonists on the other hand are mostly presented by the author as strong, assertive characters in their own right, their actions having a pivotal role in the story.

A thoroughly enjoyable read.
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on 30 October 2017
This is a book I have been meaning to read for too many years, and am so glad that I have finally got around to doing so. First published in 1868 and laying claim to be the first true detective novel, it is among the most intricately woven mysteries ever written. Originally published in instalments instalments in Charles Dickens' magazine, "All the Year Round," it demands a good deal of patience, and as much dogged determination from the reader as from the detectives, professional and amateur, who contribute to its resolution.

What it has in common with its worthier descendants is its emphasis on character, which is assisted by the use of a number of narrative voices. The fates of all participants are of interest, even where only indirectly connected to the main story.

The book is available to read online for free, or as a free Kindle book.
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on 16 May 2014
This book by Wilkie Collins was first published in 1868 and is often considered to be the first detective novel. It's the story of the theft of a precious and cursed Indian diamond, the Moonstone, from the room of a young lady, Rachel Verinder, on the very day she inherited it. I found it an enjoyable book and an easy read. It's possible to read a chapter or two a day and not lose the thread of what's going on, although the storyline meanders somewhat with lots of red herrings and cul-de-sacs along the way. And, perhaps not surprisingly, some parts of the plot are rather implausible particularly, I thought, the re-enactment of the taking of the diamond from Rachel's rooms, done to establish how it might have been stolen.

The format of the book is very similar to Collins' earlier novel, The Woman in White, in that it is an epistolary novel with multiple narrators, each telling part of the story, and each confining himself (or herself) to what they knew from their own knowledge. Collins had legal training and this method of presenting the story is somewhat akin to witnesses giving their accounts in a court room. The characters, especially the narrators, are well developed so that their individual personalities shine through. For example, one of the main narrators, Gabriel Betteredge, an aged and long-serving servant to the Verinder family, comes across as a fine upstanding, honest man, with a dry sense of humour, an air of cynicism, and with wisdom beyond his station in life. Rachel's relative, Miss Clack, on the other hand, is shown to be a interfering busybody and a religious zealot.

My main criticism, and the reason it only gets four stars and not five, is that the novel is very long and the story could have been told in half the number of pages. Consequently, it's not a book to read if you're in a hurry to move on to something else. It better suits the reader who wants to savour the richness of the Victoria prose and enjoy the personalities of the characters. Of course, this criticism of length can be levelled at many Victorian novels and there did appear to be a belief amongst the authors of that period that you should never summarise in a sentence what could be expanded into a paragraph.

Despite being written nearly 150 years ago, some parts come across as surprisingly modern. I was much taken by this sentence which could have been written in the 21st century - "In our modern system of civilisation, celebrity (no matter of what kind) is the lever that will move anything".
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on 29 May 2016
In his excellent introduction, John Sutherland says that Charles Dickens praised the early instalments of the Moonstone. but later found fault with it. He couldn't understand why, so this latter-day Dickens will try to explain.

The narrative of Gabriel Betteredge, which introduces the characters, setting and plot is brilliant - informative, amusing, and well-judged. We get to know this charming, old-fashioned old buffer, with his passion for Robinson Crusoe; and we are intrigued by the exotic background to the "unlucky jewel". And the circumstances of the theft are as much a mystery to us as they are to the characters in the book. In other words, a great set-up.

Then it starts to go wrong: first, a plot weakness, then an unbelievable suicide note; then a preposterous reconstruction. The second half of the book is so disappointing. I put it down partly to "serialitis", and (with Mr Sutherland's intro in mind) the author's poor health and drug dependence.

(By "serialitis" I mean the practice of dragging out a story issued in instalments when it has proved to be a success. For an extreme example, see "The Count of Monte Cristo". Modern example? Game of Thrones.)

The second narrative, that of Drusilla Clack is promising. Miss Clack is a tiresome god-botherer and Collins had a lot of fun with her character - but she too is intelligent and observant. During the early part of her narrative the mystery seems to be nearing a solution. We hear about the attacks on Godfrey Ablewhite and moneylender Septimus Luker, and the bank deposit of a precious jewel by Luker. "The Moonstone?" asks Rachel. The shrewd lawyer Mr Bruff thinks so. He also points out that Ablewhite was the first to leave Yorkshire for London, and thinks that things look bad for him.

So.... we just need the police to establish whether the "precious jewel" is indeed the Moonstone and to force Luker to say who pledged it. But nothing happens. This thread is left hanging. So for the next 250 pages I'm thinking, it's Ablewhite. So when it turns out to be the case, it's a huge anti-climax.

Much of the second half of the book is the narrative of Franklin Blake. Blake has been presented as an interesting modern character with a multi-cultural background: yet his narrative is matter-of-fact and rather dull. But what about that buried confession by Rosanna Spearman? A 20-page suicide note? That reads like another narrative deposition? Credibility is strained to the utmost.

Much of the last quarter of the book is given over to the reconstruction of the night of the theft. The whole idea is utterly preposterous, yet at the same time predictable. The character of Ezra Jennings is surplus to requirements anyway - the author could have expanded and changed the role of Dr Candy to deal with Jennings part of the story. I'm not impressed by Sergeant Cuff - he comes to the wrong conclusion and fails to solve the mystery, in fact he's no more effective than the boneheaded local bobbies.

But in spite of the above, there is a lot to admire in this book. A huge effort has gone into the construction of the story, and in the creation of a cast of interesting and (largely) believable characters. Above all, the book is a work of great originality (though much imitated since).

Btw, you can't sink into quicksand over your head, except in fiction. The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Woman in Black, and several other works repeat this canard.
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on 23 September 2017
This is a review of the Naxos audiobook starring Clive Swift. It is a superb reading (although, sadly, greatly abridged) of the seminal detective novel, The Moonstone. The voices by the various narrators are just perfect for the parts they play. Wonderful. This CD or audible download captures the spirit of the novel completely. I love it! And of course the story itself is full of mystery, intrigue, fascination and laugh-out-loud humour.

There are a number of full-length audio narrations of the entire novel out there (very good ones), but I have found this shortened version to be the best in terms of the ideal actors and actresses (all British) to portray the various parts. I think Clive Swift, in particular, is amazingly convincing as the old servant, Betteridge - you really believe he IS that character. The performance is perfection itself.

A must-have, delightful audio version of The Moonstone, in my view. I return to it again and again - as, I suspect, you will. (A great television adaptation of the story, by the way, is the one produced in England in the 1990s and starring Greg Wise. That is the TV equivalent of this superlative audio-book - almost beyond criticism).
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on 12 September 2015
I misjudged this book when I was at school!
It was a set book for "O" level, so I first read "The Moonstone" when I was fifteen. As a rebellious teenager, I had no time for the ramblings of Gabriel Betteredge or the multiple storyteller structure of the novel.
Now, after reading a lot of the classic British nineteenth century novels tthanks to Kindle, I can really appreciate the craft and originality of Wilkie Collins.
We were told in school that this was the first 'whodunnit', and I read it now, rembering the twist at the end. It makes no difference to thedrive of the story, but I can see the careful way that the clues to the truth of what happens are spread through the story and hidden by the preconceptions of the characters.
In summary, I think that "The Moonstone" is brilliant. I cannot recommend it more highly.
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on 20 October 2012
I think this is generally recognized as English literature's first detective story. It certainly provides some useful patterns for others to follow, and like all great detective stories keeps the reader gripped and guessing from first till last.

Wilkie Collins was a contemporary and friend of Dickens, and there are similarities of style, though in general Collins is less given to authorial moralising or the use of the extended metaphor. Both employ the mini-climax technique to keep us turning the pages. Collins has other clever tricks up his sleeve. I particularly enjoy his multi-narrative structure, where the responsibility for telling different parts of the story is passed on from one character to another. Collins does a superb job with voice and characterisation of both male and female narrators - my favourites were the loyal servant Gabriel Betteredge with his passion for his pipe and 'Robinson Crusoe' (preferably together), and the prudish Miss Clack, a wonderful comic study in sanctimonious egotism. It is interesting also, for the modern reader who may have read Kate Summerscale's 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' to see the famous real-life Victorian detective portrayed in fictional form here as Sergeant Cuff.

Like most 19th Century novels 'The Moonstone' is quite long, but there is always something interesting going on and the denouement is more than satisfactory.
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on 20 November 2016
Said by some to be the first British crime novel, it is well told, with multiple narrators, some of whom are more interesting than others. It introduces many of the standard plot devices of classic crime fiction (including a fabled jewel looted by a soldier and a quirky detective)

Plot is a bit of a stretch, though it's quite sensible when viewed alongside the plot of The Notting Hill Mystery, which predates it by about 5 years.

Characterisation is great but the pacing drags at times. That and my slight reservation about the plot means it's 4 stars.
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on 18 January 2017
More than anything else, this book is an enjoyable read, and despite it's type (detective novel) and subject matter (stolen items and treachery) it is funny, a bit eccentric and a great read. The format of telling the story from some of the characters view point works well and Wilkie Collins makes these characters interesting quirky and fun. Because of these characters quirky traits and quirky storytelling the book does meander a bit (it is long) and I felt the middle sagged a bit. This book is obviously very influential and I daresay Agatha Christie was a fan....Recommended
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