Bibliomaniac's Book Club: December 2017


Wilkie Collins' novels are:

- Compulsively page turning
- Full of suspense and tension
- High class Detective Fiction
- Innovative and genre breaking
- Include multiple narratives and unreliable narrators
- Explore themes of madness, insanity, lies, deceit, manipulation and domestic issues

Sounds like some of the most popular psychological thrillers out this month! 

Yes, they may be over 150 years old, but Wilkie Collins' stories are still as relevant, as exciting and as gripping as they were when they first appeared. His novels are considered to be the first detective novels as we know them today - and maybe even a forerunner for the psychological thriller! 

I love Wilkie Collins. I have read and reread The Woman in White, seen the films, watched any TV adaptations and even seen it performed as a musical decades ago (no, I wouldn't recommend that particular interpretation!). I love The Moonstone. I have also read his other novels - No Name a particular favourite - and I think they're all compelling and complex reads. But the worst thing about Wilkie Collins is knowing he is never going to write me a new book! 

.... Anyway, although some may be put off by the density and length of Collins' novels, I do think they are worthy of a read and should be on any crime thriller fan's TBR pile.

 On the 28th December, Harper Collins are reissuing The Moonstone to mark 150 years since it was first published and as Christmas Eve is traditionally a time for ghost stories, I thought it was timely to dedicate December's book club choice to this fantastic classic. 

The Moonstone is Wilkie Collins’s spellbinding tale of romance, theft, and murder. Based on the disappearance of an enormous diamond originally stolen from an Indian shrine, the novel features the innovative Sergeant Cuff, the hilarious house steward Gabriel Betteridge, a lovesick housemaid, and a mysterious band of Indian jugglers. Curious? You should be! 

Collins gives us a story full of all the ingredients we want in a detective thriller. There's the mysterious and compelling crime that takes place in an English country house; there's a large cast of potential suspects, all of them assembled, each with plenty of motives. There's a celebrated sleuth who enacts a reconstruction of the crime and finally unveils a satisfying explanation of what has happened, cleverly slotting all the pieces of the puzzle into their rightful place. The story is told using a variety of narratives from the main characters in a variety of forms, which makes the reader keep turning the page to try and solve the mystery and discover the truth. There is plenty of tension, suspense and drama. 

‘Probably the very finest detective story ever written. Nothing human is perfection, but The Moonstone comes about as near perfection as anything of the kind ever can.’ 


The Woman in White has a much more complicated and intricate plot which is really hard to condense and summarise, but it is intensely compelling and absolutely worth persisting with. Published before The Moonstone, it is considered one of the first examples of detective fiction with the protagonist Walter Hartright using the skills to uncover the crime that we will later see private detectives employing. It is also a very gothic novel, full of ghostly settings and a spine tinglingly eerie atmosphere that lingers over every page. 

'In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop... There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white'

Walter Hartright has a creepy and unsettling encounter on a moonlit London road in the opening pages. He is then engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairly and before long he has become embroiled in the sinister lives of Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco. This is a novel which explores identity, madness and the plight of women in society within the setting of an English country house and an asylum. It's a gothic horror. It's a psychologically thriller.

So why not curl up this Christmas, set some time aside to indulge in a classic crime novel that may give you the shivers, but ultimately will deliver a very well executed and meticulously planned mystery story. Choose one of these classics for your book group and then use the questions below to start your discussion! 


How did you find reading either The Woman In White or The Moonstone? What were the challenges?   What are the key differences between this book and a detective novel in the bestseller charts at the moment?

What did you like best about the book? 

What three bits of advice would you give to someone before they read these books? (Practical, serious or literary!)

Can you identify how these stories paved the way for the detective novel as we know it today? What key features or ingredients of the genre does Collins include? 

Collins uses lots of different narrators and lots of different forms of writing to tell his stories. Were there any particular voices or forms of writing that appealed to you or were easier to identify with?

What do you think about his representation of women? 

Can you think of any contemporary novels you have read recently that might be compared with The Woman in White or The Moonstone? Can you recognise techniques, themes and ideas used by Collins in modern fiction?

What values do you think Collins had or tried to explore in his novels?

Do you need a knowledge of history or the social context to fully enjoy or appreciate these novels?

Why do you think these novels were considered groundbreaking when they were published? 

Write the blurb for one of these novels as if you are pitching them to a book buyer at a supermarket.

Katherine thinks these books are brilliant and essential reading for anyone who loves mystery novels and gothic stories. Does she have a point or should they be left to go dusty on the library shelves? Do you think these novels could still be relevant to a reader in modern day society?

Would you read another Wilkie Collins book or another classic after having read one of these titles? If yes, why and which one? If no, why not?


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