Before Philip Marlowe, Sherlock Holmes and Adam Dalgliesh. Before Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. The first full-length detective novel ever published was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. First serialised in Charles Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round, the story revolves around the theft of a precious stone. A diamond, actually, not a semi-precious moonstone. The title page of the first edition [below] shows the publisher as Tinsley Brothers, Catherine Street, The Strand, London in 1868. The story
On her 18th birthday, Rachel Verinder inherits a large Indian diamond as a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt British army officer serving in India. However the diamond is not only valuable but has great religious significance, and so three Hindu priests dedicate their lives to recovering it. At her birthday party Rachel wears the Moonstone on her dress for all to see. Later the same night, the diamond is stolen. The Moonstone follows the attempts of Rachel’s cousin Franklin Blake to identify the thief, trace the stone and recover it.
The first edition
Of course there are many ‘first editions’ and not all date from the original publication, they may simply be the first printing by a particular publisher. Although I could find online a first edition of Collins’ The Woman in White, dated 1860 and costing £2,500, I could find no similar edition of The Moonstone. I wonder where they are and who owns them? Fans of crime fiction? This first edition dates to 1959 and was published in the USA by the New York Heritage Press. George Macy’s Heritage Press reprinted classic volumes previously published by the more exclusive Limited Editions Club. Bound in red Morocco leather and including colour lithographs, it costs £450 at rare bookseller Peter Harrington.
The current UK edition
There are many editions of The Moonstone now listed at Amazon, many are self-published and take advantage of the lack of copyright. Above is the current Penguin Classics edition.
There have been many television, radio and film adaptations, including in 1997 a BBC/Carlton TV production featuring Greg Wise as Franklin Blake and Keeley Hawes as Rachel Verinder. Watch at You Tube below.
Watch the trailer here for the most recent BBC mini-series in 2016 [below].
Cover designs for older editions of The Moonstone tend to be romanticized, often featuring details from larger classical paintings.
My copy of The Moonstone [below] is a Penguin Popular Classics edition dating back to 1994. The cover shows a detail of ‘The Honeymoon’ by Alfred Joseph Woolmer [below]. ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins [UK: Penguin Classics] Buy now
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
First Edition: THE MOONSTONE by Wilkie Collins #oldbooks via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2sF