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The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

This was my bookgroup’s Christmas read – we like to pick something classic for festive reading. This was a popular choice, as several of us, me included, have read Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, the real-life Victorian murder case which inspired Collins.

I started reading well before Christmas, but somehow didn’t gel with the book at first, getting rather bogged down in the first fifty or so pages. I found the story of the jewel’s extrication from India in the prologue a little turgid, and then the start of the first segment a bit slow… So I put it down and resumed reading on New Year’s Day. This time it matched my mood and I was able to get into it again easily, and this time I really enjoyed it.

I’m not going to expound on the plot, but this novel of a crime in a country house has a bit of everything. Someone present that night must be the culprit – and we get to meet them all. What is truly original is that the story is told through the testimonies of key characters at the various stages of the plot. Setting the scene and getting a major chunk is Gabriel Betteredge – the Verinder family’s trusted retainer, and he introduces us to all the characters including the virginal Rachel; the prodigal Franklin Blake who brings the Moonstone to the house; the scullery maid with a murky past, Rosanna Spearman; and Franklin’s rival for Rachel’s affections – Godfrey Ablewhite amongst others. Betteredge also introduces us to the useless local bobby, and the brilliantly clever detective Sgt Cuff who soon appears to be getting to the bottom of things once on the case. But even Cuff’s investigations don’t go to plan …

By the way, I read the new Oxford World Classics edition, which has explanatory notes, a chronology, bibliography and an introduction by John Sutherland – which helpfully you are told to read after the novel. (Shouldn’t they have made it an afterword then?).

Those of our book group who finished it also throughly enjoyed it – although I don’t know how Alex managed to cope with reading it on his iphone! I’ve been left rather keen to read more of these sensation novels. Great stuff. (8/10)

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