The Moonstone is such an important classic text that everyone should read. The Guardian have listed it at number 19 out of ‘The 100 Best Novels’ stating that it is said to be the “godfather of the classic English detective story”. The Moonstone was originally serialised by Charles Dickens in his magazine All the Year Round, between the 4th of January and the 8th of August 1868. After this, it was published in three hardback volumes on 16th July 1868, before the final installations had been released as a serial. Collins, following the obvious success of his novel, adapted it for the stage, but it only ran for around two months, proving to be not as successful as the book.
The Moonstone follows life in a country home in Yorkshire and in particular Rachel Verinder, her mother and their servants. Rachel has been left the Moonstone, an extremely valuable jewel, following the death of her uncle (her mother’s brother). A reclusive and dishonourable man, he leaves the diamond to Rachel in a seemingly vengeful attempt to bring bad luck to Lady Verinder, who banished him from her family years before. The novel is told from Gabriel Betteredge’s point of a view, the head steward of the country house. When some suspicious Indians appear at the house, the diamond goes missing the next night. But is it really the Indians attempting to claim back something that originally belonged to them, or is it someone a bit closer to home who steals the £20,000 diamond (around £2 million in today’s standards).
Collins definitely adheres to the ‘rules’ of detective fiction, although he was the first one to set such rules, with the Moonstone being one of the first of its kind. It has a mysterious crime, not in the shape of a murder, but of a theft. There are a large number of suspects, each with large motives for acting out the crime. An incompetent officer, Detective Seegrave is employed, before being fired and this is when they bring in “the big boys”, with Sergeant Cuff, the “best detective in England”.
What makes this novel so great is the techniques Collins employs to make it so. On many occasions, the reader is directly addressed, making the plot much more believable and it helps us to interact and connect with the story a bit better. Betteredge often speaks to the reader, apologising if he has deterred from the manner at hand, or spoken out of term, etc. He says in Chapter 1 that he does not “wish to raise your expectations and then disappoint them, I will take leave to warn you here”. Betteredge is constantly concerned about boring the reader but includes all kinds of unimportant information because he wants to put down things exactly as they happened: “A sleepy old man, in a sunny backyard, is not an interesting object, I am well aware. But things must be put down in their places, as things actually happened…” However, he consoles us, claiming:”Cheer up! I’ll ease you with another new chapter here – and that chapter shall take you straight into the thick of the story.” He also warns us when an important tidbit of information is being presented to us. Most of the time in these sort of crime fictions, I gloss over various characters and facts that I think aren’t important but turn out to be vital as evidence. Luckily, I had Betteredge to highlight these bits for me: “There are reasons for taking particular notice here of the occupation that amused [Miss Rachel and Mr Franklin]. You will find it has a bearing on something that is still to come”.
The form of the novel is very interesting, switching points of view and characters, but what I found REALLY interesting, was Betteredge actually warns us, before Miss Clack’s narrative takes over: “I hear you are likely to be turned over to Miss Clack after parting with me. In that case just do me the favour of not believing a word she says, if she speaks of your humble servant”. I have never before known of an author to use this technique of forewarning in such a way. Miss Clack, as warned by Betteredge, is frustratingly Christian and instead of talking about the theft and her part of the narrative involved there, she goes on about hiding her religious ‘publications’ around Lady Verinder’s London house, hoping she will read them. Is this to make us realise how crazy she is, and therefore prove Betteredge right? A form that comes towards the end of the novel includes letter writing but also the diary entries of Dr Candy’s assistant, Ezra Jennings, which prove to be very interesting in finding out who really stole the Moonstone.
My one criticism with the novel is that it took 90 pages for the Moonstone to actually go missing. Apart from that, I cannot fault it.
Overall rating – 5/5
Next review: A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle