The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins: B+

From the back cover:
The light that streams from the Moonstone, a yellow diamond of unearthly quality, is like that of the harvest moon. Rachel Verinder receives the stone for her 18th birthday. But on that very night, it is stolen. Although all members of the household must give account for the day’s events, Betteredge offers the most insightful renderings. His story is made all the more enjoyable by his uproariously honest assessments of human nature and his reliance on Robinson Crusoe, a book he firmly believes answers the fundamental questions of life.

The Moonstone has been hailed as the first English detective story, and is well worth reading for historical merits alone. That said, I found the mystery here to be a shade lackluster. From my modern perspective, certain conclusions that were obvious to me were overly explained, and I didn’t find it very hard to guess the perpetrator after a number of facts came to light.

So, as a mystery, it’s not going to be the tightest or cleverest you’ve ever read. As a story, however, it’s very entertaining and often quite funny! It’s told from a variety of first person narratives, as each person concerned with the loss of the moonstone has been charged with committing the things they witnessed to paper, but not to comment on the things that they personally did not know at the time. Particularly amusing are Gabriel Betteredge, the steward of the house, and Miss Clack, a proselytizing cousin whom everyone finds extremely distasteful.

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  1. Collins is great at multiple narrators. I love Miss Clack, particularly the bit with the cab driver: when she doesn’t tip him, he swears at her, whereupon she instantly gives him a tract and he drives off in fury: “Quite useless, I am happy to say! I sowed the good seed, in spite of him, by throwing a second tract in at the window of the cab.”

  2. Hee. I also liked the bit with Penelope and the tract selected for her benefit: “A Word With You On Your Cap-Ribbons.” 🙂

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