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'Do you feel an uncomfortable heat at the pit of your stomach ... and a nasty thumping at the top of your head? ... I call it the detective-fever.' The Moonstone (1868)

'Suspect in this case, the very last person on whom suspicion could possibly fall.' 'My Lady's Money' (1877)

'Reckoned up is, if you please, detective English for being watched.' The Evil Genius (1886)


Sergeant Cuff from The Moonstone


Wilkie Collins is sometimes referred to as the 'grandfather of English detective fiction'.  The Moonstone was descibed by T. S. Eliot as 'the first and greatest of English detective novels'. Although technically preceded by Charles Felix's The Notting Hill Mystery (1865), The Moonstone can claim to have established the genre with several classic features of the twentieth-century detective story:

A country house robbery

An 'inside job'

A celebrated policeman with a touch of amiable eccentricity

Bungling local constabulary

Detective procedures

False suspects

'The least likely suspect'

A rudimentary 'locked room' murder

A reconstruction of the crime

A final twist in the plot


Wilkie Collins, according to Robert Ashley, can also claim the following:

The first British detective story ('A Stolen Letter', 1854)

The first appearance of a police officer ('A Terribly Strange Bed', 1852)

The first woman detective ('The Diary of Anne Rodway', 1856)

The first humorous detective story ('The Biter Bit', 1858)

The first canine detective ('My Lady's Money', 1877)


Collins also influenced Conan Doyle whose Sherlock Holmes emulates many of the features of both Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone and the pipe-smoking Old Sharon in 'My Lady's Money'.  The 'three-pipe problem' of The Sign of Four was anticipated by Uncle Joseph's 'I smoke three pipes and think three thoughts' in The Dead Secret (1857).

The Holmes dictum from 'The Red-Headed League' that 'when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth' sounds remarkably like Felix Sweetsir's 'exhaustive system of reasoning' from Collins's 'My Lady's Money'.

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