The Luminaries is a very long mystery novel which did not enlighten or move me. I am probably not a good judge because I rarely like this genre which depends on plans, plots and serendipity, red herrings, foreshadowing and suspense. The Luminaries is rife with those devices.
I'm more interested in characterization . There are 12 or 13 suspects, narrators, main characters? I don't know what to call them because it takes 80 or 90 per cent of the book to discern one from the other. The Maori, Ta Rae, who "worried that he was only an ornament , a shell without meat, a clamshell...," is the only character I got to know throughout the entire book. The two Chinese characters don't speak English well and are victims. The rest are white immigrants to New Zealand and are slimy in varying degrees. They are conniving and in search of wealth. They eventually tell their stories, but rarely examine themselves. They are dull, though they have gone through hardships, indentures, prison, loss of wealth, and drug addictions.
The setting is New Zealand though it reminds me of Moby Dick's Nantucket and many stories of the Gold Rush in California. It takes place 150 years ago. It seems like yesterday without cell phones and PDAs. Robbery, treachery, enslaved women, prostitution, love, etc. These are certainly universal, not particular to New Zealand.
I do like Jess Walter's Citizen Vince and Kate Atkinson's Brody series because their main characters are revealing a lot about about themselves as they follow the clues. These mysteries are not really about the dead body in the room, but the reawakening of dead spirits in the main characters, though they are also filled with twists, turns, false starts, etc. At the end of The Luminaries, I was snoozing, still in the dark.