Although I’ve only recently begun writing mysteries (officially — the Enchanted, Inc. books seem to have fallen into that structure and a lot of people read them as mysteries), I’ve always been a big mystery reader. Still, there are classics I hadn’t yet read. One of them is The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins, which is considered one of the early mystery novels. I’d read his The Woman in White when I was absorbing Victorian novels before writing Rebel Mechanics, but I hadn’t made it to this one.
It came up again when I was planning the current book, since my book is my own take on the English house party mystery — the kind of story in which you’ve got a bunch of guests at a country estate, and then there’s a crime. To look at some of the tropes and how I want to play with them, I looked up some examples of this sort of story, and this book came up. I found a miniseries adaptation on Amazon Prime Video and watched that, and that made me want to read the book. It’s not actually a great fit for the kind of house party story I’m thinking of in that the crime happens during the party, but the rest of the book, with the investigation and the resolution, happens at other times. It’s not one of those stories that takes place entirely at the remote estate where all the characters are stuck together.
Still, it has one of the great plot twists of all time, and I won’t even begin to hint at it lest I spoil it for someone who’s intrigued. Aside from that, I’m fascinated by the way the story is told. The framing story is that the person who wants the case solved has asked all the people who know anything about it to write out their own accounts of the events surrounding the crime and the aftermath. There’s a big chunk about the party from the perspective of the elderly steward at the estate. There’s another chunk by one of the party guests, a prim spinster relative. The person who wants the case solved has his own part, as do a lawyer and a doctor who help with the investigation. There are also letters from other people included. Everyone has their own perspectives and knowledge of one piece of the puzzle, and they also have very strong voices. The biases they bring to the situation come into play in what they notice and what they suspect. They do have a definitive solution, so you don’t have to do all the work yourself, but you do get to try to figure what the truth might be by putting together all the pieces of info.
This has made me consider how that could work in another genre, like maybe having chronicles of an event from the perspective of both sides. Could you tell a fantasy story in “found” materials, like letters, the histories each side writes, royal proclamations, etc.? That might be fun to play with.
The Moonstone is referred to a lot in Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog. It’s been way too long since I reread that, so I’m rereading it now that I can get all the jokes.