The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

The Moving FingerJerry and Joanna Burton have relocated to the village of Lymstock to recover, he from injuries received in a plane crash, she from a failed relationship. Unfortunately, they don’t realise that they’re in an Agatha Christie novel, and that the village’s women are being plagued by a series of poison pen letters. Needless to say, things escalate as the wife of the local solicitor commits suicide and when another girl dies, it falls to Jerry to sort things out. Well, until a certain little old lady shows up…

The third Miss Marple book, following The Murder At The Vicarage and The Body In The Library, this is another review in my re-evaluation of the Miss Marple mysteries. So far, I’ve actually been rather disappointed with the re-reads so far. Is this the one to break the pattern?

It’s interesting to note the dates of the Miss Marple books – the first (Vicarage) was written in 1930 but the second (Library) turned up twelve years later. This one turned up the following year, so presumably she’d become popular. But you could make a good case that this isn’t really a Miss Marple book – because she’s hardly in it. The joys of my Kindle tells me that it’s 74% of the way through the book before she shows up, and even then she’s only in three or four scenes.

If I was Jerry Burton, I’d be pretty cheesed off. He’s clearly set up to be the hero of the piece and, while he doesn’t do much detection, he’s vaguely on the right track, when he’s not distracted by his slightly creepy romance with a young lady in the village. Once Miss Marple turns up (and basically spots the murderer immediately), he starts blundering around like an idiot, poor chap.

As for the mystery, it’s one of times where the critical “look at one event in the right way to solve it” isn’t as obvious as in some of her other books. I remember that when I read it the first time, I felt that I was being clever that I’d solved it, rather than that the book was being obvious.

Having said that, there’s some misdirection that is used far too many times which does kind of point to the murderer with a flashing neon sign. But it’s still one of the better books that Miss Marple (briefly) appears in.

Definitely worth reading, although it might have been better if Miss Marple hadn’t shown up. I wonder why Dame Agatha put her in it – could she have generated such a following after only two books?

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
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8 Responses to The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

  1. threeoutside says:

    I can’t fill you in on the history, sorry, but had to note that the BBC/Joan Hickson version of this was enjoyable even though that “slightly creepy romance” was even more distracting because they apparently felt casting and making a young actress up to look and (self-consciously) act as much like Lady Diana as possible was a smart thing to do. It just weirded me out, mostly. The ‘enry ‘iggins “transformation” toward the end was intensely repellent, as well.

  2. Tom Newsom says:

    As to the Miss Marple resurgence – whilst you’re forgetting the short stories (of The Thirteen Problems, written before Vicarage, and there’s a few later ones written around the time of Library), there’s still a sizeable gap. I think the best reason is simply it was the period where she was sick of Poirot and another recurring detective would be more popular than standalone adventures. Although she *is* a memorable creation even in her first book!

    • Forgot about the short stories, the style of which (the early ones at least) mirror this book, namely Miss Marple not being involved in the main events at all. That explains a lot.

  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    Yes, it is strange that Miss Marple appears for the first time only after about 74% of the book is over and that too briefly, making one wonder while reading whether it is actually a Miss Marple book. Even after that, she appears briefly 2 or 3 times till the denouement. It would have been better if she was omitted and the case was solved by the narrator.
    However, this is a better Miss Marple book and I would definitely include this In Miss Marple Top Five, considering that some of the others are so bad. The suspense is maintained throughout and one is kept guessing till the end. I enjoyed reading it.
    A point to note is that the title is not only figuratively but literally correct since the culprit types the envelopes using only one finger.

  4. richmcd says:

    Good assessment. Certainly one of the stronger Marples, although it wouldn’t hurt if she was in it a bit more (or taken out entirely).

    One thing that makes me uneasy is the maid (Beatrix?) who begins to work things out. It’s a clever clue she’s involved in, of the banal domestic sort that Christie specialise in, but why does Christie have to make all the servants in her books so insultingly slow-witted? It’s almost as bad as Cherry in The Mirror Crack’d. Miss Marple’s patronising attitude towards maids doesn’t help either.

    I know my bonnet is buzzing particularly loudly at this point, but I think this is the best Hickson to rewatch for evidence that they’re really overrated. It’s just so boring and… stilted. The final explanation scene is particularly bad. Just a lot of implausible dialogue snippets thrown together, blandly delivered, with only one choice of camera shot (awkward, badly-framed close-up) for about five minutes. Hickson is good, of course, but none of the rest of the cast pull their weight. And it ends with the nauseating line: “Well I wonder, dare I ask, would it be possible for all of us to have a nice cup of tea?” I know Christie’s an escapist author, but even she was never THAT twee.

    (Of course this is where you tell me that’s a direct quote from the book…! I’ve not seen my copy in years. But I’m 99% sure it’s not.)

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