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The Woman in White by Wilkie CollinsAnother classic I'd never read! Although The Woman in White received mixed reviews when it was published in the mid-19th century, it was an immediate hit with the reading public. I can see why. For one thing, Wilkie Collins is a master of the cliffhanger: I lost count of how many there were throughout the book, and each was put to excellent use. For another, he draws wonderful characters, making them beautifully (and horribly) specific, and thus, hard to forget. I admit that I had little patience with Laura Fairlee, the book's angelic ingenue, who seems always on the verge of fainting, but I recognize that she is a contrivance of the age in which the novel was written, and the other characters are all so deliciously wrought that it seems unfair to quibble over Laura's "girly" characteristics.

The Woman in White is not only a mystery but a true thriller, and it was said at the time that Collins had written "something completely new." It's not often that I am moved as I was when reading this novel: in fear, anticipation, sadness, and excitement. Ultimately, Collins is simply a marvelous storyteller. Aspiring writers can learn much about how to engage readers' interests and emotions effectively; readers will find a novel that they can completely and gladly lose themselves in. And isn't that something we all want and need from time to time?

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins ($12.99*, MacMillan Collector's Library), recommended by Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, NC.