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Ackroyd at his best - gripping short life of the extraordinary Wilkie Collins, author of The Moonstone and The Woman in White.Short and oddly built, with a head too big for his body, extremely short-sighted, unable to stay still, dressed in colourful clothes, as if playing a certain part in the great general drama of life Wilkie Collins looked distinctily strange. But he was none the less a charmer, befriended by the great, loved by children, irresistibly attractive to women -- and avidly read by generations of readers.Ackroyd follows his hero, the sweetest-tempered of all the Victorian novelists, from his childhood as the son of a well-known artist to his struggling beginnings as writer, his years of fame and his life-long friendship with the other great London chronicler, Charles Dickens. A true Londoner, Collins, like Dickens, was fascinated by the secrets and crimes - the fraud, blackmail and poisonings - that lay hidden behind the citys respectable facade. He was a fighter, never afraid to point out injustices and shams, or to tackle the establishment head on. As well as his enduring masterpieces, The Moonstone -often called the first true detective novel - and the sensational Woman in White, he produced an intriguing array of lesser known works. Collins had his own secrets: he never married, but lived for thirty years with the widowed Caroline Graves, and also had a second liaison, as Mr and Mrs Dawson, with a younger mistress, Martha Rudd, with whom he had three children. Both women remained devoted as illness and opium-taking took their toll: he died in 1889, in the middle of writing his last novel -Blind Love.Told with Peter Ackroyds inimitable verve this is a ravishingly entertaining life of a great story-teller, full of surprises, rich in humour and sympathetic understanding.

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