Short and oddly built, with a head too big for his body, extremely short-sighted, unable to stay still, dressed in colourful clothes, Wilkie Collins looked distinctly 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. Peter 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 a writer, his years of fame and his life-long friendship with the other great London chronicler, Charles Dickens. As well as his enduring masterpieces, "The Moonstone" - often called the first true detective novel - and the sensational "The Woman in White", he produced an intriguing array of lesser-known works. Told with Ackroyd's inimitable verve, this is a ravishingly entertaining life of a great storyteller, full of surprises, rich in humour and sympathetic understanding.