Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Review: The Moonstone

THE MOONSTONE: A detective story done right

The story of The Moonstone revolves around a large Indian diamond that is said to carry a terrible curse. It is given as a birthday gift to Rachel Verinder, and its theft at her party draws her whole household into a locked-room puzzle. Now, it is only Sergeant Cuff’s detective skills that give the victims hope in solving the mystery.

In truth, I’m not really a fan of stories with Prologues. They are often exploited for excessive exposition and information dumping, which should be, most of the time, interwoven inside the story itself. The Moonstone suffers from this, and it renders the beginnings of the story very slow.

But it does pick up in the first narrative. The story, characters, and other key elements are established well. What I really like about the key elements is the fact that they seem random -- that they will not have a bearing to the core of the mystery. By the end of the narrative, they give the impression that nothing is random at all.

This impression, however, is not very consistent in the other narratives. This is particularly obvious in the second narrative. There are certain elements in it that don’t contribute to the overall scheme of things. Some of the familial details are overcomplicated and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong. This narrative has major elements that lead to the core of the mystery, but I couldn’t help but be bored in it because there are sequences that don’t really drive the story to the right direction. The third narrative is almost the same case. Aside from that, the major events in these narratives are not as explosive as that of the first narrative. The partial diverting of the story to familial matters is partly to blame here.

Again, the story picks up in the fourth narrative, as significant clues are discovered. This is the point where the novel really becomes a page-turner. From here, it is a rollercoaster ride.

What I really like about the mystery that shrouds this book is its execution. Most mystery stories present only the threads that will point to the inevitable solving of the puzzle. But in the case of The Moonstone, there are threads that lead to false suspects. These threads are also very justifiable because of the actions of the characters. In a sense, this makes the mystery not just purely plot-oriented, but also character-driven. Aside from that, the threads lead to conclusions so impossible that they seem ridiculous. But these conclusions, in the end, turn out to be justifiable as well.

            As for the writing style, the author exploits different voices and speech patterns to make use of the epistolary effectively. This gives birth to the very interesting character Gabriel Betteredge. But he’s not the only well-made character. Even though she doesn’t have her own narrative, Rachel Verinder is a very fleshed-out character. And Sergeant Cuff shouldn’t be overlooked as well, for he is a good contender for Best Detective in Fiction, both in personality and skill. The writing is not perfect, however. There are instances where the author uses too much adverbs. Sure, adverbs are good to amplify the effect of certain words. But sometimes, they also have the opposite effect. They tend to disengage the readers because of too much description. This flaw, however, is not exclusive for the author. It is pretty common in classic literature. I just feel that it should be pointed out.

The Moonstone, overall, is a must-read for those who enjoy detective stories. It may not be as good as the author’s other masterpiece, The Woman in White, but it has its own share of stories to tell that cannot be found in the other one. The mystery of this book is complicated enough to be considered multilayered. The advice I give them is that they should pay attention to the details, because those that are seemingly random are not random at all. They should also tolerate the ridiculous conclusions of Sergeant Cuff because they will all fit in the end -- but not in the way they think!

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