Friday, November 28, 2008

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone

I'm in the process of catching up on some of the things I read earlier this year but never got around to posting, and here's a work I read for my Book Group back in September.

The Moonstone holds the distinction of being "the first detective novel," but right there I have to qualify that distinction. While it may be the first detective novel, it is hardly the first detective story -- that title must go to any number of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, most notably "The Purloined Letter." And while it may be the first detective novel, it is hardly the first novel to make use of what would soon become the crime-solving detective stock character -- that had been done almost two decades earlier with Inspector Bucket in Dickens's Bleak House. So while my qualification does little to diminish The Moonstone's status as "the first detective novel," it does place Collins's work within the larger context of his contemporaries.

At its center, The Moonstone is the story of the titular diamond's disappearance following the eighteenth-birthday celebration of Rachel Verinder, and the efforts to recover the stolen artifact, reconstruct the circumstances of the theft, and identify the culprit. Told through multiple points of view, the novel not only presents a fascinating study in problem solving, but established many of the basic tropes of detective fiction that continue to hold true even today. Although Collins was a contemporary of Dickens (and even published this novel serially in Dickens's All The Year Round), its style is much more accessable than that of Dickens.

I enjoyed The Moonstone, as I'm sure you will.

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