HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Moonstone
Author: Wilkie Collins
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics, republished in 2005
Related website: www.barnesandnoble.com/classics (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone (originally published in 1868; republished in 2005 by Barnes & Noble Books, 122 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10011). The Moonstone is a huge, yellow diamond that originally adorned the head of a Hindu moon-god’s statue in India. It was removed by Muslim conquerors and then taken through murder and theft by the corrupt Col. John Herncastle in the 1799 British storming of Seringapatam. Some fifty years later, Herncastle, who has been shunned by his family, leaves it as a legacy to his niece, Rachel Verinder. But all during this time, three Brahmin priests and their descendants have continued to follow the diamond in the hopes of returning it to India. For Rachel’s eighteenth birthday party, Herncastle’s nephew, Franklin Blake, is instructed to bring the diamond to Rachel. At the party, besides Rachel and Blake who are in love, are Rachel’s mother, cousins Godfrey Ablewhite and Miss Drusilla Clack, a local doctor Thomas Candy, and a world traveler named Mr. Murthwaite. Three Indian jugglers have also come by offering to perform for the party but are refused.
Rachel wears the diamond at her party. However, the next morning it is missing. Several suggestions as to who took it are made–the three Indian jugglers; Rosanna Spearman, a maidservant who begins to act oddly and who then drowns herself in a local quicksand; and even Rachel herself, who also behaves suspiciously and is suddenly furious with Blake when he directs attempts to find it. Sergeant Richard Cuff, a renowned detective from Scotland Yard, is called in, but the mystery remains unsolved and everyone leaves. During the next year there are hints that the diamond was removed from the house and may be in a London bank vault, having been pledged as surety to a moneylender. The Indian jugglers are still nearby, watching and waiting. Who took the diamond? Will it ever be found? And why did Rosanna kill herself? The story is told through narratives by several of the parties involved, including head servant Gabriel Betteredge, Miss Clack, the Verinders’ solicitor Matthew Bruff, Mr. Blake, and others. T. S. Elliot called it “The first and greatest of English detective novels.” The British Conkie and the American Edgar Allen Poe are credited as co-creators of the detective story.
The Moonstone has all the features that we usually associate with English detective novels—an English country setting, a bloody murder, a tragic suicide, a frustrated love affair, a bumbling local policeman, and a brilliant London detective. However, this is not a “modern detective story.” Rather than focusing on atmosphere and sinister villains, Collins emphasizes characterization and a simple mystery with its solution. Forms of the “d” word are used in a few instances, and the terms “Lord” and “God” are occasionally found as interjections. There are several references to drinking wine, smoking tobacco, and even using opium, although both the smoking and opium use are essential to the plot. Also, the opium is spoken of more as a medicine, and the dangers of addiction are mentioned. The only really “religious” person, Miss Clack, is slightly lampooned as somewhat of a fanatic, but the fact is that there are people who do self-righteously use their religion as a cudgel to beat others. The book could be done as a family read aloud with some judicious editing or explanation but is recommended primarily for teens and adults as the subject matter and style of writing would probably not appeal to younger children.