Book Review: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone
Wilkie Collins


Serious mystery readers may already know that The Moonstone is considered “the first and greatest of English detective novels.” Those are the words of T. S. Eliot, poet, playwright, literary critic and winner of the 1948 Nobel Prize for Literature. I read The Moonstone, which was first published in 1868, for the Whodunits mystery book club at the library where I work.

Wow. It’s a whopping, 482 pages of dense type, with footnotes, so I had to go hard to get it read by my deadline, but it was totally worth it!

The story begins in India, with the Storming of the Seringapatam by an English Imperialist army, during which a valuable gem is stolen from a religious icon. John Herncastle brings the famous Yellow Diamond back to England and, when he dies, it goes to his niece, Rachel Verinder, on her eighteenth birthday. It’s an act of revenge, though, because the gem is rumored to be cursed and Herncastle’s family hates him. And a mysterious trio of Indians has been lurking in the shadows ever since Rachel’s cousin, Franklin Blake, brought the Diamond, aka The Moonstone, to the family’s home in Yorkshire.

Rachel wears the Diamond for her birthday party and by morning it’s missing. The local police manage to offend the servants and soon, the famous Sergeant Cuff is called from London. He discovers an important clue, and the investigation takes off. Rumors from London suggest the gem been pawned and secured in a bank vault. If true, how did it get from Yorkshire to London?

The narrative is from many points of view, beginning with Lady Verinda’s butler, Gabriel Betteredge. He quickly becomes Cuff’s sidekick as they try to unravel the events that led to the lost Diamond. Other narrators include a poor relation, Miss Clack, who is eager to share her carpetbag full of religious pamphlets and Franklin, who was also Rachel’s love interest before the gem went missing, and is now under suspicion. Many additional characters contribute clues, but they don’t always lead in the right direction: Rosanna Spearman is a plain housemaid (and former thief) with a deformed shoulder, and she knows something. Philanthropist Godfrey Ablewhite is another love interest and “Limping Lucy” Yolland holds a letter that may explain a lot.

The mystery is set in both the coastal region of Yorkshire, where a scary tract of quicksand may have swallowed up some answers, and in London, where shady lender Septimus Luker has an office and family lawyer Matthew Bruff wields an imposing legal influence.

Halfway through the book and you wonder if the mystery will ever be solved. It will, but there’s a lot to discover, through briefly introduced characters in the beginning, and new characters, all leading towards a twisted and spectacular finish.

While not an easy read, I totally recommend The Moonstone as an example of how it’s done. I’m only giving it 4.5 stars, however, because of its difficulty.

And here’s something interesting: the book was originally published in serialized format by Collins’s good friend, Charles Dickens!

Have you read The Moonstone? What did you think?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

22 thoughts on “Book Review: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

  1. “Halfway through the book and you wonder if the mystery will ever be solved.” That’s where I’ve been with this one since I bought my kindle and started it several years back! It was very good –I just got frustrated. Great review.

    1. I know – I think this is the kind of book you read for a college class to discuss all the elements. I definitely enjoyed it, but it took a lot of effort and concentration to get it going in my head. I’d say the last 150 pages are much faster, with a variety of narrators. I’m glad I read it because I feel like it is an important classic to know, but as I said to you on Twitter – it’s definitely not a beach read! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. On to the next book!

    1. Hi Jill – yes it was an intense week of reading for me. I’m really glad I read it, although I felt like I was back in college! Thanks for the visit – hope you are doing well 🙂

  2. The Moonstone was a staple on my students’ high school reading list for a long, long time. I don’t think many of them “took the bait,” so to speak, probably because the book is so long. Maybe more pertinent to college-age, as you mention in comments.

    1. I agree, Marian – I think this would be tough for a high school class, partly because of its length, but also because there is so much to study about it. Great point. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Barbara, a superb review of this book … the style is so different from modern books and difficult in that sense I agree. I read it a while ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I haven’t been tempted to read any of his other works! Interesting that is was serialised by Dickens!

    1. Hi Annika – I’m tempted to read The Woman in White because that was an even greater sensation during his time. But we chose The Moonstone at the library because there were more copies available 😉 I’m going to take a little break next and read something easier!

  4. I also enjoyed it a lot. I actually listened to it. In case you haven’t read it, I highly recommend The Woman in White by the same author, also a very important book in the genre (Gothic).
    NB: thanks for your comment on my review about Minimalism, that’s how I came here, and am now following your blog

    1. Oh nice – In about a half hour I will start the Whodunits meeting – I know one person listened to the audio book and I was curious how that was. I’m going to try to read The Woman in White this year. Thanks so much for the follow! 😊

  5. This has been on my to-read list for a long time now! Great review — I appreciate knowing that it’s worth it, despite the difficulty. BTW, love your new profile picture!

Tell me what you're thinking!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s