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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

The First Detective Story And A Masterpiece Of Technique

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

Considered by many to be the first detective story in the English language, The Moonstone is the story of the theft of a fabulously valuable diamond, first from India where it was considered to be an immensely sacred object, and then from a young heiress in Yorkshire. It is told by a series of narrators, each of whom has a part to play in the unfolding of the plot, and each of whom his or her own strong opinions about the other characters in the story. The stone itself is stolen more than once in the course of the novel and all the time those who possess it are shadowed by a team of Indians utterly dedicated to returning it to its rightful place as an object of veneration.

Wilkie Collins was a contemporary of Dickens but his style is far more straightforward, and more readable to the modern ear. The Moonstone lacks the the dark intensity of Dickens' best work and Wilkie Collins makes no attempt to plumb the moral and physical depths of his society like his contemporary. Nevertheless, he conveys a sense of the inter-dependence of the upper and lower classes in Victorian Britain and his sympathies are more often than not with the social outcast.

Primarily, however, this is a masterpiece of technique. Full of ingenious twists and turns and wonderfully narrated in a series of perfectly-pitched voices, it's an example for modern writers of how to put character at the heart of a crime story.