Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

Title: The Moving Finger
Author: Agatha Christie
Publication: William Morrow, paperback, originally published in 1943
Genre: Mystery/series
Setting: 20th century England
Description: Jerry Burton’s recovery, after crashing his plane, is slow, so when his doctor recommends recuperating in the country, Jerry and his younger sister Joanna, rent a house for six months in the small village of Little Furze, Lymstock. The locals are surprisingly friendly, coming with calling cards, and there is even an attractive doctor to help Joanna recover from a failed romance. But just as the siblings are congratulating themselves on finding the perfect retreat, they receive a spiteful anonymous letter. They dismiss it at first, then learn all their neighbors have been receiving poison pen letters too. When the police cannot find the perpetrator and one of Lymstock’s residents commits suicide, the vicar’s wife calls in her own expert – who else but Miss Marple!
My Impression: I usually enjoy a story that begins with characters moving to a new place, especially when they find out it is not exactly what it seems. Jerry and Joanna are young, attractive, and affluent so are welcomed by the inhabitants of Lymstock, and seem content although there is little to entertain them but an occasional game of bridge. Jerry’s interest is briefly caught by the nanny to the Symmington family until he realizes only her exterior is beautiful, then he is distracted by the gauche daughter of the house who needs a friend. Joanna, used to easy conquests in London, is piqued that busy Dr. Griffith does not immediately succumb to her charms. Then there is a suicide, followed by a murder, and suddenly their placid life in the country is seriously threatened. An investigation of the poison pen letters is unsuccessful:
“Whoever writes these things has been very cunning,” I said slowly.

“She is, sir, she is,” said Graves. “Up to every trick of the trade.”

“I shouldn’t have thought one of these bucolic women down here would have had the brains,” I said.

Graves coughed.

“I haven’t made myself plain, I’m afraid. The letters were written by an educated woman.”

“What, by a lady?”
A small village where everyone is a suspect is a variation on the locked room mystery, and this was one of Christie’s favorites.  It's written in the first person from Jerry's point of view.  I found the handsome, aviator hero and the condescending way he treats awkward Megan annoying. Even his sister points this out:
“I’d thought of taking her for a walk up to Legge Tor.”

“With a collar and lead, I suppose!” said Joanna. . . . “Master’s lost his dog, that’s what’s the matter with you!”
Christie is very clever here, taking the conventional wisdom on anonymous letters and inverting it, confusing her characters and readers. Fortunately, Miss Marple appears and is able to solve the mystery the (male) detectives could not. Interestingly, although I recalled little about this mystery, I did remember the murderer, methods, and motive despite not having thought about The Moving Finger for many years (and sometimes one can finish a book and not be able to say whodunnit the next day). One odd thing is that it is hard to tell this book was written during WWII: it would be easy to assume that Jerry is merely a rich man with a plane who had an unlucky accident, not (presumably) an RAF pilot who is recovering from a crash meritoriously incurred in battle.
This is my ninth mystery for Carol’s Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge and third for Read Christie 2023.

Source: Library


Cath said...

Hmm, this is one of the few Miss Marple books I haven't read and I don't even remember the drama of it. I'll see if I can find a copy. I want to Read Why Didn't They Ask Evans? soon too as someone was waxing poetical about it on YT last night. I'm currently reading Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. Lorac which is another village murder scenario with a murdered nun if you please. It's set near hear up in N. Devon and is very good so far.

Jerri said...

Which version did you read? This is one of two Christie mysteries (Three Act Tragedy is the other) that had significant differences between the original US and UK editions, with the US being abridged by about 9000 words according to Wikipedia. I enjoy the full UK version with the slower back story and more time devoted to characterization.

Yes, the novel is stuck in time, especially with attitudes about male/female relationships. And it is one of Christie's novels written during WWII that tends to ignore the war, I think all of her works written during WWII are set in an alternative universe without the war, except for N or M?, the Tommy and Tuppance war novel.

One could think of Jerry as an RAF pilot, but if this were really set during the time written there would be more war showing, rationing, blackouts, and so on. Even if set during the "phony war", the war would be impacting lives, including the travel plans of some characters at the end of the book.

Kay said...

Gosh! I've never read this one. Thank you for the recommendation. And thank you for your visit and wonderful comment. It's great meeting you. Aloha!