The British miniseries is an adaptation of the very first detective novel in England, written by the icon of the Victorian sensational novel: Wilkie Collins. His first installment mystery, full of cliffhangers, was The Woman in White (1860, also a PBS miniseries), in which the specter of insanity, stolen identity and “the mad house” loom darkly. Collins sets a cursed jewel in the center of The Moonstone, which was published in 1868 and set the standard for detective tales to follow, including the trope of the professional detective who outwits the local police in the skill of sleuthing (Sherlock Holmes, I presume?).
The Moonstone’s twists and turns are set in motion when a John Herncastle bequeaths an enormous diamond as a birthday present to his 18-year-old niece, Rachel Verinder. Hardly a fair gift, the diamond should never have shone its carats in England. Uncle committed sacrilege when he stole it from a deity sculpture in an Indian temple. Guardians of the jewel are in hot pursuit. This criminal backstory is told in the series’ opening moments via quaint paper-cut figures and a narrator.
A central figure among the ensemble cast is Franklin Blake, the young man who delivers the diamond to Rachel at her manor house. The two share a keen sparkle for one another, but the romance goes south when the gift vanishes overnight from her bedroom, and it’s clear his financial life is a mess. Everyone from the aristocrats to the servants who admired her diamond at her birthday party are suspects, as are three Indian men who have been seen around the manor.
The person summoned to solve the theft is Sergeant Cuff, a famous detective from London who would prefer to investigate how to grow the perfect rose garden.
Cuff has a disarming air and conducts his investigation largely through casual conversations with members of the Verinder household and other relations. The family would prefer not to draw attention to the now twice-stolen diamond and eventually dismisses him.
A year later, Cuff is drawn back into the investigation at Franklin Blake’s urging, who believes that resolving the whereabouts of the diamond will win him back Rachel’s heart.
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