The Moonstone is a diamond taken by Colonel Herncastle when he was a soldier in India and given to his niece on her birthday after his death. During the time before her birthday the nice, Miss Rachel, bonds with her cousin Franklin Blake. She also has a birthday party with several guests and Indian jugglers and wearing the Moonstone as a broach. That night the Moonstone is stolen…
The story is often presented as the first crime novel. This might be an exaggeration. At the same time this was one of the books that both introduced, and segmented, a lot of the tropes regarding what we know thing of as the mystery genre. It has the mystery gentleman detective and the old police officer detective. It has the red herrings, the scientific experimenter and interview techniques. I couldn’t help feeling like I was reading a cousin of the Sherlock Holmes books, especially the first one A Study in Scarlet. I wonder if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle read The Moonstone before writing Sherlock Holmes. When I say they are similar I don’t mean that there is a Sherlock Holmes in the book. Neither Franklin Blake (the gentleman detective) nor Sargent Cuff (the police detective) have the distance and sociopathic tendencies which we know and love about Sherlock. It’s the thinking and atmosphere and the way the story is built up that is so similar. The difference is that The Moonstone is a much bigger book, which to me wasn’t a problem. Right when you thought you were reaching the end of the mystery the book takes it to a new level, and since there are so many different sub-plots it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging out, because all of the sub-plots connect with the main plot.
If there is such a thing known at the doctor’s shop as a DETECTIVE-FEVER, that disease had now got fast hold of your humble servant.- First Narrative, Chapter XV
To me I loved how the book focused on inductive reasoning (I see A therefore I assume B). Not just once, but several times in the story. What I loved about this was that unlike a lot of other stories, like Sherlock Holmes, here inductive reasoning is put in the light it should. It’s not perfect and it’s difficult to pull off, yet it does have the possibility to give you information and to guide you as a detective.
“Do you feel an uncomfortable heat at the pit of your stomach, sir? and a nasty thumping at the top of your head? Ah! not yet? It will lay hold of you at Cobb’s Hole, Mr. Franklin. I call it the detective-fever; and I first caught it in the company of Sergeant Cuff.”- Third Narrative, Chapter III
Now, I’ve read The Woman in White and fell head over heels in love with it. I won’t claim it yet since Collins has produced so much and I’ve only read two, but he is staring to become one of my new favourite authors. One of the reasons I love The Woman in White is the way he wrote the two main women Marian and Laura. He managed to write complex character that had strengths, where realistic in the limitations at the time, yet didn’t go over the line with being too perfect. I know some might disagree, but both The Woman in White and The Moonstone us multiple narrators. The same character will be referred to by a wide range of characters. While some of the characters might place certain characters in a bit of a halo, but this is just natural. If you love someone (like a sister or a servant that has seen you grow up) you look at them in a halo. Having multiple narrators saves the author in this regard. Having just one narrator with this view describing this character could give the impression that this was what the author thought and viewed the character. Giving the pen to different people, with different relationships to the characters, saves the author from this mix up.
This might also be my main complaint about the book. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is a protagonist in the book, the focus is the loss of The Moonstone and figuring out who has it, but we do spend a lot of time with Miss Rachel. Yet, we never hear Miss Rachel narrate. Having heard so much about her through so many other people, it would have been nice to hear her own voice.
Still, I can’t wait for the next Wilkie Collins book and hope I again get the detective-fever.