During the time of the English occupation of India, a ruthless Englishman steals a large diamond from a religious cult statue. A group of three men from the cult vow to retrieve the stone, or die trying. The thief manages to keep the diamond out of their hands for many years, but wills it to the daughter of his estranged sister, in payback for her unkind treatment of him. Unaware of its sordid past, the innocent girl, Rachel Veringer, receives the diamond as a gift on her 18th birthday. The night of the birthday party the stone is stolen from Rachel's bedroom. A famous detective is hired to solve the case and everyone at the house that night are suspect, including a maid with a shady past, various other servants, Miss Veringer's two suitors, and even Miss Veringer herself. The story is told through narratives written by the different characters. There are clues and searches, mysterious foreigners, unrequited love, and many other elements that have become staples of modern mystery novels.
This is very old mystery novel, first written in 1868. Some people consider it the first mystery novel written in the English language. As I read it I imagined it as an old black and white movie. It is full of 19th century stereotypes, but it was a delight to read. I especially liked the personality of the old butler, Betteredge, who writes the first narrative and thinks that the answer to all life's questions can be found in the pages of Robinson Caruso. The second narrator, Drusilla Clack is an over zealous Christian and keeps wanting to give everyone religious tracts, calling them to repentance. It almost made me laugh out loud. It is a longish book, and I must admit it took me a while to get through it, since I mostly read while exercising, but it was well worth the effort. It is a good one for those who like period romance, but are ready for a little different plot. (566 p)