The worst of all events occurs at a young woman’s birthday party, it is neither murder nor theft but scandal! While Victorian readers might have seen the stunning narrative of The Moonstone in those terms, Wilkie Collins’ classic to us today is one of the first detective novels that paved the way for so many others with innovations in structure that keep the reader engaged.
As the reader quickly expects the titular diamond is present throughout the novel whether physically or in the minds of all those who relate their portion of the events before and after it’s theft on the night of Rachel Verinder’s birthday. The main narrator of the story is the Verinder family butler, Gabriel Betteredge, who gives a complete account of the events leading up the theft and those when the criminal case suddenly ends. Betteredge’s point-of-view makes a return during the second part of the book in which numerous other characters detail events that subsequently happened over the next two years. Collins’ builds the readers expectations to a fever pitch throughout Betteredge’s account until suddenly the narrative takes the first of many twists until the reader is once again eagerly is turning the page to see what’s going to happen next until the culprit and location of the fabulous gem is firmly established.
Given the era in which The Moonstone was written, many Victorian ideas and social norms are obviously in the narrative. However, unlike some other authors of the time Collins takes them both seriously and satirically to the enjoyment of the reader. Some of the best writing in the book is the character of Ms. Clack, an holier-than-thou spinster written so over-the-top that readers will quickly have a smile on their face as they go over her account. Although subtitled as a “Romance”, The Moonstone shouldn’t be seen as the forerunner of that modern genre. While a few star-crossed romances are in the novel, it is the mystery and the various types of detection that are the main focus of the narrative.
When I picked up this book and saw it was one of the first true detective novels, I wondered what I was getting. Upon finishing The Moonstone I can relate that all my apprehensions of stilted prose and mannerisms were quickly erased from my mind as the narrative and Collins’ style overwhelmed me. If you are a fan of mystery or detective novels, get this book and be happily surprised like I was.