At last I've read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins! Why did I wait my entire life to read this classic? I haven't a clue. No idea. It feels stupid now as it wasn't a difficult book at all and was so readable and such fun. Never mind, perhaps there's an argument that there's a time for everyone to read certain books and this was mine.
The Moonstone is my 15th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 reading challenge.
It's 1848 and young Rachel Verinder has just come of age and inherited a fabulous yellow diamond known as The Moonstone. The acquisition of this stone, by an uncle in India, is dubious to say the least, likely as not he murdered to steal it from under the nose of a Hindu sect. So the thing is cursed and is also sought after by group of Hindu men pledged to retrieve it at all costs. Needless to say the inheritance is a real poisoned chalice but Rachel is unaware of this when it's given to her. Unaware enough to put it in an unlocked cabinet overnight from where, naturally, it is stolen.
So whodunnit? An elderly steward relates all that he knows about Rachel, her mother, Lady Verinder, Franklin Blake, the cousin who delivered the stone to its new owner, the servants, local acquaintances and what happened when the stone was stolen. When no more can be done the police are called in, in the shape of Sergeant Cuff, a well known solver of impossible crimes in London. It seems there are numerous suspects as there were a lot of people in the house at the time for Rachel's birthday. And one of the servants in particular has been behaving very oddly of late. Cuff has plenty of ideas but is eventually sent away by Lady Verinder, mainly because she can't bear to have a policeman in the house. So what's to be done? According to one expert, wait for year, but why?
On the cover of my copy of The Moonstone there's a quote from T.S. Eliot calling this book: 'the first and greatest of English detective novels'. I don't know if it was the first, it may be so, but it's certainly contender for 'the greatest' I would say. It's written in the same manner as The Woman in White in that the narrative is passed from person to person according to who can best testify as to what was happening at a particular time. Thus it starts with the elderly house steward, Gabriel Betteredge, an old retainer type, who gives a rambling account of the history of the family and recent happenings and believes that the answer to every problem in the world lies within the pages of his favourite novel, Robinson Crusoe. It's quite wonderful to read and very funny in places. From him we move to contributions from Miss Clack an evangelical Christian, Matthew Bluff a lawyer, the cousin, Franklin Blake, Ezra Jennings, a physician's assistant etc. It's beautifully done, very readable, full of suspense, humour and excellent characterisation.
Favourite characters for me were Gabriel Betteredge with his unwavering faith in Robinson Crusoe, Miss Clack, wonderfully drawn, worrying herself to death about people's souls and salvation, leaving her religious tracts in their houses even to the point of going into bedrooms and bathrooms. Sergeant Cuff was also nicely drawn, I wish there were more of him in the book, I loved his obsession with roses and his perpetual arguments with the gardener. I think the person I felt most sorry for was Ezra Jennings, the doctor's assistant. We don't learn the exact reason why he's down on his luck, apart from his unusual appearance which Victorian people seem unable to cope with and which has basically made him an outcast. Very sad but I suspect it wasn't unusual back then.
Oddly enough, I didn't take to Rachel Verinder very much, possibly because there was no narrative from her so her character wasn't always clear but also I found her jumping to conclusions too readily, why didn't she 'ask' a particular person about an important occurance that she witnessed? I suppose then there would have been no book. Let's face it if people in books actually communicated most of the books we read would have no plot!
So I was pretty thrilled with this book. I love Collins' writing, perhaps more than I like that of his friend, Charles Dickens. Although before I state that categorically I probably ought to read Dickens as an older (hopefully 'wiser') person. Pretty much all of the Dickens I've read I read as a teenager and I'm sure my reaction to it now would be a lot different. In the meantime I want to read more by Wilkie Collins. I own No Name and it looks like a strong contender for my next book by him although I do have a couple on my Kindle I think and of course all of his output is now available free online. We'll see. Recommendations would be welcome if anyone has read anything specific.
Naturally, I gave The Moonstone five stars on Goodreads, a crackingly good read and inspirational as I am now determined to read more of this kind of thing.