Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Original and Best :The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Some members of the library  crime reading group were  put off  by the length of this book. For me and others Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone  was such an enjoyable read that length wasn't a problem - except when it came to carrying it, of course.
What Hitchcock called the 'McGuffin' or catalyst  for the story - the disappearance of a precious gem and the search for it - was  the least important aspect. Modern crime stories, it's true, tend to involve serial killers rather than theft of jewellery but a writers of the past relied less on sensation and more on character and plot.  
The main strengths of this, the first 'English detective story' , published in 1868, lie in its atmosphere and structure. Starting on a remote coastal region where the turn of the tide causes the phenomenon of 'shivering sands' , in a country house inhabited by two women who are unusually spirited for the Victorian era, and a pair of suitors for the daughter's hand, makes for a sense of intrigue.  Three Indian gents and their boy assistant hovering in the vicinity add an exotic and authentic edge to this tale of a gem taken first from a temple during the last days of empire and left as a legacy to the heroine, to be presented on her 18th birthday.
The aspect that I found most enjoyable was the author's use of so many different 'voices' to tell the story of the investigation and outcome. Just as the narrators have their own agendas and points of view  they are also different enough to entertain and offer new insights as the story progresses. The romance aspect is particularly intriguing as characters change their opinions of one another in the light of new evidence.  
Wilkie Collins was a close friend of Dickens - The Moonstone first appeared as episodes in Dicken's magazine 'Household Words.'  While  weekly keep-'em-reading  nature of the publishing media accounts for the eventful narrative , the influnce of Dickens on the characterisation is also very clear.

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