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0094 | The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

Context: read this in two decrepit and crumbling volumes that were over 100 years old as we worked our way from Turkey to Croatia

Deep down in an old shopping trolley outside a second-hand bookshop near Istiklal St, Istanbul I found the second volume of The Moonstone. A further rummage turned up the other volume and, after quick haggle, I walked off with them. The first volume fell apart almost immediately after I started reading it. The second seemed in better condition until I started reading it and discovered why. Dated 1908, no one had ever read it but me. How do I know this? The pages were uncut. I had to slice them apart with a pocket knife to read it.

Was it worth it… read on.

The novel surprised me firstly in that I knew nothing of Collins of the plot. It’s a stately home mystery. Not a murder-mystery but one that centers on the disappearance of the priceless diamond The Moonstone. It was a bit like an Agatha Christie to read actually and this is no surprise because, wikipedia helpfully informs me, it is considered the first ever detective novel in English.

While I am getting fed up of authors of yesteryear persisting on writing everything as a letter, diary or report of a third person’s narrative a la Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, this one actually suited the story. This is because different points of view shed different lights on the diamond’s disappearance. This is done much more skilfully than the woeful new release from Hollywood, Vantage Point.

The butler starts (he just has to doesn’t he) and Collins gives him such an wise plodding manner, it’s quite charming. Various other characters have their turns telling their stories and throughout the whole you really do wonder how on earth the jewel vanished and just who the culprit is.

You find out in the end of course, and there’s plenty of surprises along the way. It was a very readable and I would think it would make a great modern film if done in the style of the classic Gosford Park and it’s about time because it hasn’t been made for the big screen since the 30s.

So, if you are a fan of Holmes, Christie or any other detective stuff, go and give this seminal book a read and you won’t have wasted your time or money. I’ll have to glue mine back together before anyone else can read it though. What started out as two volumes has now become about fourteen.

I address these lines – written in India – to my relatives in England.


we always seemed to be getting, with the best of intentions, in one another’s way. When I wanted to go upstairs, there was my wife coming down, or when my wife wanted to go down, there I was coming up. That is married life according to my experience of it.

Every human institution (justice included) will stretch a little if you only pull it the right way.

Who can tell?

terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb

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