The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
rating: 4 of 5 stars
While not nearly as hair-raising or diabolical as The Woman In White, Wilkie Colins' famous "first detective novel" was the perfect read for the last few rainy days.
The Moonstone concerns the theft of the diamond by that name, a theft that occurred the night of lady Rachel Verinder's birthday party. Of course, all the guests are suspects, as are the servants. In these early chapters the seeds of the classic "great house" detective mystery--which has influenced everything from Agatha Christie to Sherlock Holmes to Clue to "Gosford Park"-- were sown. Add to the mix a love story thwarted, a wise London detective, a tragically morose housemaid, a few Christian hypocrites (Collins was not a fan of being proselytized, apparently) and a quest by Indian priests who will stop at nothing to regain the precious stone for their temple--and you've got quite a fun and potent mix. The book, like The Woman in White, is narrated in turn by several characters which adds to the mystery, and of course the satire as they all opine on each others merits and defects. I actually was surprised by the lack of blatant racism when it came to the Indian quest (although the archaic spelling of "Hindoo" makes it hard to take seriously).
The "detective fever" as one of the characters calls it, did not hit me really until the last few sections, when I began to see that some of my guesses were near the mark and turn the pages more furiously. There were some very silly and maudlin scenes towards the denouement but nothing out of the ordinary for old-school Gothic and nothing silly enough to stop me! Anyway, I didn't need to be in a frenzy to KNOW WHO ABSCONDED WITH THE DIAMOND the entire time to enjoy the book and steadily wind my way through it. It's a leisurely, easy read, clever and amusing, and sometimes that's all you need.
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