Image via WikipediaI was introduced to the writer, Wilkie Collins many years ago through his novel The Woman in White, a romantic, suspenseful mystery novel written through the eyes of a number of storytellers.
The Moonstone is written in a similar fashion, a record of events contributed by members of the family affected by the Moonstone's seeming curse, their elderly butler Gabriel Betteredge, the family solicitor and the retired policeman Sergeant Cuff. Considered to be the first detective novel, The Moonstone is in essence a number of witness accounts describing the days and events before, at the time of and after the theft of the fated diamond that lends its name to the novel.
Collins had a wonderful eye for detail, weaving an intricate pattern of clues that eventually lead to the discovery of the culprit. He skilfully sets up the mystery of the theft, surrounding the crime with hints, red herrings and an increasing number of questions
As a writer of murder mystery plays, I found Collins' method of adding layer upon layer of information from differing viewpoints fascinating. Gabriel Betteredge presents the first few days of the main storyline in a straightforward manner, very much like himself, honest and blunt. At the end of his account, we are left as questioning of what has happened as he is. In fact, Betteredge represents the reader as observer and questioner, making discoveries as we do.
The main characters are painted with colour and depth. They are not necessarily likeable but they are representative of their historical context - for instance, Miss Clack's fervent (if self serving) Christian beliefs and Betteredge's attitude to class, place in society and foreigners. Along with the mystery of the theft, we find the tragic story of the servant, Rosanna Spearman, and the growing, if interrupted, romance between Rachel Verinder and Franklin Blake.
The Moonstone is, if you'll excuse the pun, a gem of a read whether you enjoy crime fiction or Victorian novels or both.