Upon inheriting the Moonstone, a huge and priceless diamond, Rachel Verinder’s delight turns to dismay when the gem suddenly disappears. But this is no ordinary theft. Sergeant Cuff of Scotland Yard is called in and immediately suspects an intricate plot. However, not even his powers of detection can penetrate fully the mysteries surrounding the diamond. And as we listen to each character’s version of the events, layer upon layer of drama and suspense build to the final and astonishing denouement of this magnificent, classic English detective novel.
Considered the first English detective novel, this classic tells a compelling story. This version is impeccably narrated by a full cast of British actors, headed by Pickup as the faithful servant, Gabriel Betteredge, and Sean Barrett as the inimitable Sergeant Cuff. It’s hard to resist this dramatic, layered story of lovers parted by a terrible event, with each fearing the other may have been responsible; a busybody servant whose storytelling style amuses at every turn; a cursed gem stolen from an Indian temple; and a determined detective who seeks to recover the gem stolen one fateful night. The plot unfolds through witness statements about the theft, and all the narrators share their stories and speculate on the crime. For fans of classics and mysteries alike.
Joyce Saricks, Booklist
Rachel Verinder inherits the Moonstone – a beautiful yellow diamond – on her eighteenth birthday. But before she can begin to enjoy it, it disappears. Did the three Indians hovering about the property have anything to do with it? Did the servants take it? Or was it one of the guests at the birthday party?
Sergeant Cuff is brought in from Scotland Yard to investigate, but the mystery remains. Finally, the people associated with the disappearance are asked to write a summary of the events as they saw them, in the hope that something will come of their collective remembrance. Their stories are what make up the text of this narrative.
While The Moonstone is considered the first English detective story, there is so much more to this tale than solving the crime. The narrators share their own opinions and thoughts on the theft, as well as their personal philosophies of life. This audio version is more like listening to them sharing their story over a cup of tea, and the cast has done a magnificent job of bringing the novel to life. This is no stuffy old classic, and I laughed out loud on several occasions at the humorous commentary. I highly recommend this audio book for all who love a great story.
Alice Berger, Bergers Book Reviews
Novels written from multiple points of view pose a particular challenge for the audiobook format; the listener must easily differentiate between the numerous voices. Collins boldly presents nearly a dozen character voices, and the narrators in this production masterfully perform their parts. Even those unfamiliar with the story can track its progress through the narrators, all of whom contribute unique performances. Those not used to British diction may experience occasional difficulty with Ronald Pickup’s Gabriel Betteridge, but Fenella Woolgar’s Drusilla Clack is delightfully humorous and expressive, and Jamie Parker’s narration is convincingly commanding, if a bit snide, as detective Franklin Blake.
William Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the son of a successful landscape painter. After working in the tea business and reading for the bar at Lincoln’s Inn, he determined to become a ‘man of letters’ and was fortunate to acquire Charles Dickens as his literary patron. His interest in writing novels came from his early involvement in the theatre and in 1851 he became stage valet to Dickens for one of the many dramatic entertainments which Dickens and his friends and family staged for various charitable causes. Eventually, Collins was promoted and in 1856 the two writers co-starred in a play, The Frozen Deep, which Collins had written himself. His plays were full of drama and suspense and it was his love of the immediacy of the theatre which went on to inform his novels with the vitality and pace which are so evident in The Moonstone and which were to make it so popular with such a huge audience.
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Like Dickens, Collins was both a popular and highly literary writer; a hundred years later, T.S. Eliot was to describe The Moonstone as ‘the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels’, and Collins’s device of letting each ‘witness’ give his own version of the events owes as much to the drama of the courtroom as to the theatre. By adopting this structure Collins was able not only to sustain interest and suspense throughout a long novel based on a single event, but was also able to use his skill of characterisation to the full. Gabriel Betteridge is no ordinary old retainer; he is sought out as often for his wisdom as for his dependability and it is his beguiling voice which draws us into the story. Collins wrote that the ‘Narrative of Miss Clack… proved most successful in amusing the public’ and she remains one of his greatest creations, as familiar today as she was when the book was first published. Rosanna Spearman and Rachel Verinder are both strong and passionate women who do not conform to the strict Victorian archetype. In fact, Collins defied convention himself: he formed a liaison with Martha Rudd, by whom he had two daughters and a son, but whom he never married, and continued throughout to sustain another relationship with Caroline Clow. The fact that his private life left him on the margins of respectable society may explain why Collins felt able to create characters who are less constrained by their social position than many figures in Victorian literature.
In the Preface to the first edition of the book, Collins wrote: ‘The attempt made here is to trace the influence of character on circumstance. The conduct pursued, under a sudden emergency, by a young girl, supplies the foundation on which I have built this book.’ However, the book is much more than this might suggest and part of Collins’s success is no doubt attributable to his astute commercial sense. The Moonstone appeared in serial form in the popular magazine All the Year Round from January 4 to August 8 1868. He explained in a preface of 1871 how difficult the process had been, when he was struck down by illness and his mother lay dying: ‘I doubt if I should have lived to write another book, if the responsibility of the weekly publication of this story had not forced me to rally my sinking energies of body and mind – to dry my useless tears, and to conquer my merciless pains.’ In fact, Collins suffered from recurring attacks of gout and depression and relied increasingly on laudanum for relief from his pain. The drug was freely available and no doubt he drew on his own experiences of laudanum when he wrote The Moonstone.
Between 1859 and 1870, Collins published four major novels, The Woman in White, No Name, Armadale and The Moonstone. Although he went on to write many more novels, none was to match the perfection in style and content of The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins died in 1889.
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