Another book completed for the Fifty Classics project! You may recall that I recently read The Woman in White, a Gothic tale of murder and madness by Wilkie Collins. The Moonstone is more of a detective novel than a Gothic horror story.
A valuable diamond is stolen from a shrine in India by a blackguard British soldier, who, many years later, leaves it to his niece in his will. The niece, one Rachel Verinder, receives The Moonstone at her 18th birthday party. It's stolen in the night and the rest of the novel is devoted to unraveling the mystery, with a few melodramatic plot twists to keep things interesting. Collins skillfully aims the blame at different characters, which keeps you guessing well into the story. That said, I had trouble engaging with this novel and finally had to put aside all my other books and just power through it. Some of the characters had really irritating quirks: the butler who is obsessed with Robinson Crusoe, or the crack detective who hums a few bars of "The Last Rose of Summer" every time he finds a clue. On the other hand, there is the evangelical spinster, Miss Clack, who narrates a good portion of the story and who Collins is clearly mocking. Perhaps he was also mocking the butler and the detective? Or mocking other detective novels of the time? It is hard to tell.
If you were to rank The Woman in White and The Moonstone on their literary value alone, The Moonstone would win. Collins' writing is more mature and restrained in the later novel, and yet there is still some melodramatic silliness, and if the person who witnessed the crime had behaved the way any sensible person would have, there wouldn't have been any mystery at all.
It was made into a BBC movie starring Keely Hawes, which I haven't seen and which I suspect is pretty terrible. Has anyone seen it? In searching for a good cover image, I came across a whole blog post devoted to bad Moonstone covers, of which the one pictured above is my favorite.