Our first homely and humble narrator is Gabriel Betteridge; lifelong and much-respected servant and protector of the Verinder household. It is through a rather rambling, yet heartwarming, narrative, punctuated by inspirational quotations taken from Robinson Crusoe, that we are introduced to Rachel Verinder, her family and their unusual predicament. Just in time for her eighteenth birthday, Rachel's cousin Mr Franklin Blake appears at the house with the Moonstone; a mysterious jewel she has inherited her uncle; stolen from the forehead of a sacred Hindu statue during the Siege of Seringpatam. During the night, when everyone in the house is supposedly asleep, the exotic jewel is is stolen from Rachel's room.
Although I'm not a great reader of modern day 'detective' novels, it is quite plain to see how Wilkie Collins' created a number of archetypal characters for these kinds of stories; the hero, the damsel in distress, the professional, the scapegoat etc etc. I also found it easy to see, having read Dickens' and other authors of his generation, how Collins' was really rather modern in his writing of women; who, rather than acting as a bit of frill around a largely male narrative, are (as in The Woman in White) real, fleshed out characters and really quite complex in some cases. I also found references to the 'Hindoos' quite sensitively done for the time. Although they are represented as being 'other', and outside the norm, his writing of their exoticism managed not to be too racist,an approach greatly assisted by the appearance of Mr Murthwaite; a great explorer, well-versed in Hindu customs and able to shed some light on the three foreign strangers for Sergeant Cuff.
Provided I can follow the story and don't (as I recently had to do with Winifred Holtby's South Riding) have to constantly remind myself who I'm reading about, I love the 'Upstairs, Downstairs' style of these colourful characters. As with his other novels, particularly with narratives like Gabriel Betteridge's which started to become a little rambly at times, the periodic change in narrator acted as a welcome breath of fresh air every so often. Some characters, particularly the bible bashing Miss Clark were laugh-out-loud funny, yet I was left teased by the very brief appearances of fascinating individuals who I would have liked to hear more from; included Mr Murthwaite and Ezra Jennings, the ailing, opium addicted doctor' assistant whose brief appearance at the end of the book engenders an ingenious plan to finally solve the riddle of the Moonstone.
That said, I would go for The Woman in White before The Moonstone as the ideal introduction to Wilkie Collins'. Both novels are very well written and lots of fun, but The Woman in White didn't take up half of my concentration levels to get into and I found the characters even more entertaining Gabriel Betteridge and chums...