Why: Wilkie Collins was writing detective novels before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was even out of diapers. He also maintained arguably one of the best beards in all the literature world. While none of these incredibly interesting observations have any bearing on the quality of Mr. Collins novels, they do maintain our streak of intros that keep our readers scratching their head...
Late one night Walter Hartright, a young and talented artist, decides to take a leisurely walk, when he stumbles upon a wild beast of unparalleled strength and viciousness, with bloodstained fangs that would make a Balrog seem... sorry, actually he only happens across a woman dressed entirely in white. Following this chance encounter he learns that the woman was actually an escaped mental patient, which causes temporary distress, although Walter is confident that the event will have no bearing on his future. Oh, the naivety so often displayed by main characters. Almost at once Walter finds himself caught in a web of deceit and lies that span several generations and ends in blackmail and more lies, not to mention a ghastly beast with yellow veined eyes and a temperament akin to... sorry.
Okay, so there aren’t any beasts in The Woman in White, although the villains are quite beastly. There is however a compelling mystery with rich characters and plenty of knots to untangle by the end. It was written with a disciplined pace that helped us really understand all the family history and fully appreciate the motives of the characters. Some might consider the narrative to drag on, but we appreciated the fact that nothing was rushed. And while we were able to work out some of the confusion and suspense before the big reveals, many tidbits kept us guessing until the very end.
Another element that made The Woman in White unique was the changing narratives. The concept is hardly unique, but the premise was that whoever was closest to the main events would be the individual to move the story forward. For that reason it felt unique. The changing perspective also added some nice variety and we only wish Mr. Fairlie was able to get some additional face time.
We also came across a pair of characters that made our blood boil, which is almost always a good thing. Due to completely fictitious contractual obligations we won’t mention any names; however we will say that their villainy is comparable to Uriah Heap and Heathcliff. Overall, The Woman in White kept us engaged until the final page and gave us a new appreciation for the classic mystery novel.