|Written about twenty years before the first of the Sherlock Holmes novels, this book was called by T.S. Eliot, “The first and greatest of English detective novels.”
It’s an exciting story, full of both suspense and humor. While slower paced than modern mysteries (especially in the beginning), it kept me intrigued. Stolen jewels, mysterious bequests, and Indian jugglers add mystique to the tale.
The plot unfolds by means of several narrators, each with his or her own style and eccentricities. The spice and humor of these various narrators keeps the story moving forward, and the switch between narrators adds to the suspense of figuring out the perpetrator of the crime. Gabriel Betteredge, one of the main narrators, is the head steward of the wealthy family involved in the mystery. His style of story-telling is fresh and delightful – and many of his rabbit trails made me laugh out loud.
Published in the 1860s, this book can occasionally come across as dated in its style and tone, but in many respects it fits better with modern sensibilities than other Victorian books. The female characters are strong and independent. The ethnically diverse characters are treated with a surprising amount of dignity and respect for the time period. The Modern Library Classics edition has helpful notes to explain the elements of the story that are confusing for modern readers.