1 July 2018 Susannah

The Moonstone

Illustrations from the book, The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins

Bookshops devote many shelves to detective fiction. But the genre is a fairly modern phenomenon that began with Wilkie Collins’ classic The Moonstone, published 150 years ago this year.

Edgar Allen Poe had written detective stories, but Collins’ book was the first full length detective novel. It has been praised by T.S. Eliot as “the best of modern detective novels”, and by Dorothy L. Sayers as “probably the very finest detective story ever written”. Have you read it? It introduced many of the classic elements of an English crime novel – a country house setting, bungling local police, plenty of red herrings, and a final twist in the plot. The book has multiple narrators – I am especially fond of the butler Gabriel Betteridge, whose passion for Robinson Crusoe resembles my passion for Jane Austen’s Emma.

Why not celebrate this literary anniversary by reading The Moonstone, or watch one of the good TV adaptations.

Have you read The Moonstone? What is your favourite detective story? I’d love to hear your comment.

   The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

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Featured image credit- Illustration from the book, The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins, by Harper & Brothers Co. – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48093749
Body image credit-The Nobel Museum and the Nobel Library, Stock Exchange Building, Stockholm. By Arild Vågen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38145877

Comments (10)

  1. Marietta Rizzone

    I read The Moonstone and really enjoyed it, although I think The Woman in White is a better novel.

    Dorothy L. Sayers is probably my favorite detective author, and I absolutely love Gaudy Night! Lately I’ve been enjoying Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther detective series. Sadly, Kerr passed away this year. A big loss for detective fiction. Ian Rankin is another favorite as well.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also love Dorothy L. Sayers and Gaudy Night is a superb novel. I have not read any Phillip Kerr so thanks for that recommendation.

  2. Pam Shropshire

    I haven’t yet read The Moonstone, although I have two copies of it in my library. I did read The Woman in White recently and enjoyed it immensely.

    Charles Dickens has elements of detective fiction in some of his novels – I’m thinking of Bleak House and The Old Curiosity Shop in particular. Agatha Christie seems to be the universal gold standard for detective stories, and well deserved when you consider how prolific she was. But I have to say that I prefer Dorothy Sayers over Christie, especially when it comes to character development. Poirot and Miss Marple are fairly static, but Sayers really developed Lord Peter Wimsey into a 3-dimensional character. I only wish she had written more of the Wimsey novels. Josephine Tey is also excellent; I also love the mystery/detective novels by Georgette Heyer

    When it comes to current mystery & detective authors, there are so many subgenres to chose from. I tend to like historical mystery novels and my favorite is probably Anne Perry. I have also enjoyed the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley – the last couple of books have rather gone off the rails, but the first 4 or 5 were excellent. I, too, have enjoyed the Susan Elia MacNeal books.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also prefer Dorothy L. Sayers to Agatha Christie – she is a far more complex, subtle writer. I adore Gaudy Night.
      And I totally agree about the Flavia de Luce books – they began so well, but have gone sadly off. I have recently loved the detective novels of Jorn Lier Horst, a Norwegian writer. I have only read one Anne Perry – must try more.

  3. David Norton

    There’s good sense in starting with The Moonstone. But, did Austen anticipate detective fiction? Long ago, introducing a Penguin edition of Emma, Ronald Blythe called it ‘the most fiendishly difficult of detective stories.’ And, going further back, we might find something like a detective story in the Apocrypha. Daniel plays the detective in Bel and the Dragon. This story was good enough for Conan Doyle to copy it in a Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Golden Pince-Nez.’

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am happy to agree that Jane Austen anticipated almost everything. I think P D James has called Emma the first great detective novel, where of course the reader should be picking up so many clues. I hadn’t thought about the Apocrypha, but that is very interesting and I did not know about the Conan Doyle use, so thanks for letting me know.

  4. Penny Morris

    Detective stories are my go-to book generally for light reading. I started as a child with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven before moving onto Agatha Christie who remains a favourite. Having just watched the series Shetland on Netflix, I am now enjoying reading Anne Cleeves who also created Vera – a stereotypical dysfunctional but very successful detective. My favourite detective will probably always be Poirot, especially when portrayed by David Suchet but I will try pretty well any author. Unfortunately I am finding it difficult to discover new ones of Christie’s calibre as they only get 1 chance if the writing and mystery unravelling isn’t up to par.

    Your newsletter also mentioned Gerald Durrell and I certainly enjoyed those books. Another light reading series I’m revisiting is All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. It’s refreshing reading books which promote family values – considered somewhat old-fashioned these days.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also love detective novels, especially ones set in England. Have you tried Catherine Lloyd’s series which begins with Death Comes to the Village? Or the series by Susan Elia MacNeal featuring the character Maggie Hope. The first one is called Mr Churchill’s Secretary. And the best of all is C J Sansom’s Shardlake series set in Tudor London. The first one is Dissolution.

    • Fran Warner

      Hi Penny,

      I have to agree with you. Agatha Christie is also my favourite author with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a very close second. I have also read most of James Herriot’s books and loved the series when it was on television. I also loved the television adaption of “The Durrells of Corfu” and have bought the book written by Michael Haag.

      A book you may enjoy is one I picked up from the Abbey Bookshop titled “Sisters in Crime. Early Detective and Mystery Stories by Women” Twelve short stories written by various Victorian female writers edited by Mike Ashley.

      Regards Fran

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