was published in 1868 and is considered by most people to be the first detective novel. Given the novels place in the history of the genre, that alone should put this book on most people's reading lists. To sweeten the pot, the plot is compelling, the last hundred pages I couldn't have put the book down for anything. I was caught up in the case and wanted to find out the why and the who
in the mysterious circumstances surrounding the MOONSTONE
The novel is narrated by several different people. My favorite was Gabriel Betteredge, the head servant at the Verinder house, who becomes a reluctant Watson for Detective Cuff during the investigation. He is a man convinced in the spiritual guidance of Robinson Crusoe and believes that any disruption in his life can be explained by reading and interpreting passages from his dogeared copy of Defoe's classic. "In this anxious frame of mind, other men might have ended by working themselves up into a fever; I ended in a different way. I lit my pipe, and took a turn at Robinson Crusoe."
Betteredge is a man of his age and his views on women I found so ridiculous as to actually laugh out loud. "It is a maxim of mine that men (being superior creatures) are bound to improve women-if they can. When a woman wants me to do anything I always insist on knowing why. The oftener you make them rummage their won minds for a reason, the more manageable you will find them in all the relations of life. It isn't their fault (poor wretches!) that they act first, and think afterwards; it's the fault of the fools who humour them."
Despite his archaic views, Betteredge proves to be a good assistant to the enigmatic Sergeant Cuff. Cuff's eyes had such intensity, "looking as if they expected something more from you than you were aware of yourself."
Wilkie Collins based his character Sergeant Cuff on a real celebrated Victorian Detective Inspector Jack Whicher.
Sergeant Cuff is summoned from London to investigate the disappearance of the Moonstone, and despite the reluctance of the household to help him in his investigations, he does come up with a theory (kept from us) that proves in the final pages of the book that he is worthy of his reputation. Cuff is as equally interested in the rose gardens (he has strong opinions) as he is in the crime he is investigating. "grass walkways never gravel"
Collins does a great job putting flesh on the bones of the characters. We learn more about every major character than is necessary for the advancement of the plot. By the end of the novel I had the feeling that I was not only closing the cover on a great book, but also leaving behind some dear friends.
Another narrator, that I was not fond of, in fact, she made my skin crawl is Drusilla Clack. A cousin of the family, Drusilla, with her tendency to eavesdrop and make herself in all ways intrusive on her family and "friends" is a born again christian. The novel is set in 1848 and the term born again was not in use until much later, but she fits the profile. She was determined to save everyone and carried about her person tracts of her hero Miss Jane Ann Stamper. Once she has invaded a house she would leave tracts scattered about in places where people would eventually find them, and hopefully receive the edification that Drusilla felt they needed.
She seemed like this on first appearances.
But like Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
she would pounce on people, not for blood, but for a chance to save their immortal souls.
As I have mentioned, all the characters are well developed and Drusilla is no exception. She is a person, that after a previous encounter, you would go to great lengths to keep her from buttonholing you again.
This book delivers. You will not be disappointed. If I read it again I will put on a kettle of good English tea, light some candles, and tuck myself into an armchair, suspending myself as well as I can back into a Victorian age. I had such a great time I will certainly be reading more Wilkie Collins. "You are welcome to be as merry as you please over everything else I have written. But when I write of Robinson Crusoe, by the Lord it's serious-and I request you to take it accordingly!"