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The Moonstone (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – February 17, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 600 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Part Three of the Prologue
The storming of Seringapatam (1799)
Extracted from a family paper III

So, as told in our camp, ran the fanciful story of the Moonstone. It made no serious impression on any of us except my cousin--whose love of the marvellous induced him to believe it. On the night before the assault on Seringapatam, he was absurdly angry with me, and with others, for treating the whole thing as a fable. A foolish wrangle followed; and Herncastle's unlucky temper got the better of him. He declared, in his boastful way, that we should see the Diamond on his finger, if the English army took Seringapatam. The sally was saluted by a roar of laughter, and there, as we all thought that night, the thing ended.

Let me now take you on to the day of the assault.

My cousin and I were separated at the outset. I never saw him when we forded the river; when we planted the English flag in the first breach; when we crossed the ditch beyond; and, fighting every inch of our way, entered the town. It was only at dusk, when the place was ours, and after General Baird himself had found the dead body of Tippoo under a heap of the slain, that Herncastle and I met.

We were each attached to a party sent out by the general's orders to prevent the plunder and confusion which followed our conquest. The camp-followers committed deplorable excesses; and, worse still, the soldiers found their way, by an unguarded door, into the treasury of the Palace, and loaded themselves with gold and jewels. It was in the court outside the treasury that my cousin and I met, to enforce the laws of discipline on our own soldiers. Herncastle's fiery temper had been, as I could plainly see, exasperated to a kind of frenzy by the terrible slaughter through which we had passed. He was very unfit, in my opinion, to perform the duty that had been entrusted to him.

There was riot and confusion enough in the treasury, but no violence that I saw. The men (if I may use such an expression) disgraced themselves good-humouredly. All sorts of rough jests and catchwords were bandied about among them; and the story of the Diamond turned up again unexpectedly, in the form of a mischievous joke. `Who's got the Moonstone?' was the rallying cry which perpetually caused the plundering, as soon as it was stopped in one place, to break out in another. While I was still vainly trying to establish order, I heard a frightful yelling on the other side of the courtyard, and at once ran towards the cries, in dread of finding some new outbreak of the pillage in that direction.

I got to an open door, and saw the bodies of two Indians (by their dress, as I guessed, officers of the palace) lying across the entrance, dead.

A cry inside hurried me into a room, which appeared to serve as an armoury. A third Indian, mortally wounded, was sinking at the feet of a man whose back was towards me. The man turned at the instant when I came in, and I saw John Herncastle, with a torch in one hand, and a dagger dripping with blood in the other. A stone, set like a pommel, in the end of the dagger's handle, flashed in the torchlight, as he turned on me, like a gleam of fire. The dying Indian sank to his knees, pointed to the dagger in Herncastle's hand, and said, in his native language:--`The Moonstone will have its vengeance yet on you and yours!' He spoke those words, and fell dead on the floor.

Before I could stir in the matter, the men who had followed me across the courtyard crowded in. My cousin rushed to meet them, like a madman. `Clear the room!' he shouted to me, `and set a guard on the door!' The men fell back as he threw himself on them with his torch and his dagger. I put two sentinels of my own company, on whom I could rely, to keep the door. Through the remainder of the night, I saw no more of my cousin. Early in the morning, the plunder still going on, General Baird announced publicly by beat of drum, that any thief detected in the fact, be he whom he might, should be hung. The provost-marshal was in attendance, to prove that the General was in earnest; and in the throng that followed the proclamation, Herncastle and I met again.
He held out his hand, as usual, and said, `Good morning.'
I waited before I gave him my hand in return.
`Tell me first,' I said, `how the Indian in the armoury met his death, and what those last words meant, when he pointed to the dagger in your hand.'
'The Indian met his death, as I suppose, by a mortal wound,' said Herncastle. `What his last words meant I know no more than you do.'
I looked at him narrowly. His frenzy of the previous day had all calmed down. I determined to give him another chance.
'Is that all you have to tell me?' I asked. He answered, `That is all.'
I turned my back on him; and we have not spoken since.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From AudioFile

This seminal English mystery is presented in an unusual, but appropriate, manner, reflecting the episodic nature of the story. Three actors present the story in parts, taking on separate first-person accounts of events. All the voices are convincing, cultured British intonations describing the events surrounding the apparent theft of the Moonstone diamond from a country mansion. Each voice shades the various characters featured within the particular parts, just as the narrative offers characterizations of the other persons without attempting an outright mimicry. The abridgment is nicely done, too, avoiding any choppiness. D.W. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2nd edition (February 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192833383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192833389
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 1.1 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (600 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,910,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Wolverton VINE VOICE on May 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
As many reviewers have noted, T.S. Eliot called `The Moonstone' "the first and greatest English detective novel." Is the novel worthy of such praise? We shall see...
The story begins with a brief prologue describing how the famous yellow diamond was captured during a military campaign in India by a British officer in 1799. The action moves quickly to 1848 England, where, according to the British officer's will, the diamond has been given to one of the soldier's young relatives, Rachel Verinder. Yet only hours after the diamond arrives at the Verinder estate, it disappears. Was it stolen by a relative? A servant? And who are these three Indian men who keep hanging around the estate?
`The Moonstone' is told from the point of view of several characters. The first portion of the tale is told by Gabriel Betteredge, house steward of the Verinder estate, who has been working for the family practically his entire life. Although over 200 pages, Betteredge's account holds the reader's interest as he introduces the main players and the crime itself. The next account, by distant Verinder relative Miss Clack, is humorous and somewhat important, but far too long (nearly 100 pages) for its relevance to the story. But after Miss Clack's account, things really take off at breakneck speed.
Readers who latch onto the T.S. Eliot quote expecting a modern detective tale will be sorely disappointed. You aren't going to see anything resembling Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, Sue Grafton, or even Mary Higgins Clark. You also won't see Mickey Spillane, Dashiel Hammett, or Raymond Chandler. Nor will you see Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, or Martha Grimes. You won't even see Arthur Conan Doyle. But you WILL see the novel that influenced them all.
You'll also see something else.
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Format: Paperback
THE MOONSTONE was the first mystery story, and it in many ways remains one of the most remarkable. Working in the shadow of the Gothic and Romantic literary traditions, Wilkie Collins managed to create something new and unique. Instead of the endless evocation of atmosphere and focusing on sinister villains, Collins focuses instead on a simple mystery and its solution: who stole the diamond known as the Moonstone, and where did it go? But any reader of the novel knows that the mystery is secondary to the exposition and the marvelous parade of characters. It isn't the getting to the resolution of the mystery that is the main thing, but the process of getting there.
One of the great attractions of the novel is the extraordinary style of the writing. Although the first English mystery story, it had not yet devolved into a genre, and Collins was not aware that a mystery story could not also be great literature. As a result, he imbued his characters with enormous charm and give them each a vivid manner in expressing themselves. The multiple narratives by this remarkable characters was a strategy to deal with the problem of authorial point of view. On the one hand, Collins wanted to avoid the omniscient narrator who would know the truth both about each character and about the myster of the fate of the diamond. Collins therefore cast the novel in the form of a succession of narratives by the various participants in the novel. He thereby limits the knowledge of each narrator, but he also is able thereby to provide considerable variation in the style of each narrative.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I have become a recent convert to Victorian literature. Educated as an electrical engineer, I did not appreciate literature until I reached my 70's. This book is to the modern detective novel as Maxwell's equations are to the wireless engineer of today. All the modern detective novels follow the basics exhibited in Moonstone, but usually fall far short because they leave out one or more of the "equations". A thoroughly gripping and inventive novel by a master.
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I forced myself to read this Victorian book since it is "the first English detective novel." Honestly, it was such a surprise when it turned out to be one of the Best Books I've ever read. I could not stop raving about it. The story is told by the different characters, and each character has a distinct personality. Collins's ability to capture different perspectives from all of the different characters is impressive. And there is so much humor! The prime narrator is a butler who sees the novel Robinson Crusoe as the, to paraphrase from the movie "You've Got Mail", I Ching of all wisdom. Read this book. You won't be disappointed. I promise!
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Format: Paperback
Almost everyone has heard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, whereas his predecessor Wilkie Collins has been relegated to footnote status. However writers in the "golden age" of detective mysteries, especially Dorothy Sayers, were very aware of Collins and his influence.

The Moonstone uses a clever device whereby the narrative is passed from hand to hand to tell the story of the massive yellow diamond called the Moonstone. Ill-gotten spoils from colonial India, the Moonstone vanished for a generation until it was bequeathed as an 18th-birthday gift to Rachel Verinder. The engaging characters who tell the story of the mysterious disappearance of the Moonstone on Miss Verinder's birthday, each with his or her unique background and perspective, kept me following the story until the end. Collins also depicts the setting in rural England of Rachel Verinder's home town very effectively and without romanticizing. Unexpectedly, the famous detective plays a minor and reluctant role. In the end, I found the actual method of commiting the crime to be a bit unbelievable, but because I enjoyed the storytelling so much this was a minor quibble.
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