Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

201 pages
Published in 1942 by G. P. Putnam's Sons
Reprinted in 2007 by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
New York, NY

It is said that Agatha Christie considered The Moving Finger to be one of her best novels. I can't say that it's one of my top favorites, but it is an enjoyable read. And I know this much, it's good enough that one can read it, wait a few years, and then re-read it and still be caught up in the mystery.

The Plot:
A series of poison-pen letters has shattered the peaceful way of life in the quiet village of Lymstock. No one is safe from the scathing accusations and alarming threats contained in these vicious notes, and everyone is wondering who the sinister mind is behind them. Neighbor suspects neighbor, and it seems that no one is free of motive -- not the village doctor, not the vicar, not the servants, not even the newcomers, narrator Jerry Burton and his sister, Joanna. The stakes are raised when one victim apparently distraught over the content of the letter she received, takes her own life.

Fortunately, Miss Jane Marple is staying on as the vicar's houseguest. With her keen insight into the mysteries of human nature, she is the only one able to sort through the finger pointing and put an end to the terror."
(Summary courtesy of the publisher.)

My Thoughts:
As I mentioned above this was actually my second time reading
The Moving Finger. Normally I steer clear of books I've read before for the simple reason I remember too much. I have a strong photographic memory, especially when it comes to books. I find that long after I've read the story I can remember plots, characters, and even sometimes specific dialogue or details. (This is problematic when reading a mystery. What's the point if you remember who committed the crime?)

The Moving Finger
was an exception to this. I first read it over four years ago (in July 2006), but when I picked it up to read this month I didn't remember anything about the story, at least not at first. I dug into the story not remembering anything and was enjoying the story for it's different setting, but then the vague recollections began. At first it was a character or a scene, but by the end of the book it was like I was having a case of reading deja vu. I could remember the outcome of a conversation or scene before I had finished reading it, yet I still couldn't remember everything. It was indeed a very strange feeling!

Nevertheless, I still found myself wrapped up in the excitement of the end when the murderer is caught and Miss Marple explains the crime. Some might consider all this to mean the novel is forgettable and not worth reading, but I don't think that is true. I think the fact that I had read over 260 novels between my first reading of
The Moving Finger and my second has something to do with my foggy memory. Overall I enjoyed the read, even if it wasn't a total surprise.

The one aspect of the novel that disappointed me has to do with Miss Marple. The Moving Finger is considered a Miss Marple mystery; even the publisher's plot summary leads the reader to believe so, but if you are expecting Miss Marple's involvement to be on par with that of Hercule Poirot you are in for a surprise. The story is narrated by Jerry Burton and it is from Jerry's point of view that the entire mystery unfolds. Miss Marple doesn't appear until 50 pages before the END of the story and even then her involvement is secondary at best. She appears in only a few scenes and her longest set of dialogue is at the last pages of the final chapter when she explains the crime.

Perhaps this has something to do with why I've never been a great fan of Miss Marple. I love the concept of her character, but in all the novels that I have read where she appears her role is almost always secondary. I much prefer the detective to play a leading role. I think I could have been happy if The Moving Finger had been just Jerry Burton and the local police.

Still, as I said it was an enjoyable read. I thought it a clever mystery with a good share of wit and romance interwoven. In the end all the lose ends are tied up and as one character ironically states: "everything turns out for the best."

Definitely a worthwhile read for those new to Agatha Christie. And I think even a good read for those who have enjoyed it in the past... so long as it was the distant past.

Up next, Towards Zero a Superintendent Battle novel that I've not yet read!


Marie said...

I've never read Agatha Christie so this might be a good one for me!

Nan said...

I never made it over to the Carnival last month, and just came to read this when I posted mine for December. I also read The Moving Finger, and I love what you wrote. I agree completely with: 'I love the concept of her character.' That's exactly it. There is so much written about Jane Marple, and all those wonderful Joan Hickson portrayals which made me think that she was a huge presence in the world of detection. But no; after reading several JM books, I still don't feel I know her very well. And I wish I did. I'd love for her to be a more prevalent character. Thanks so much for putting words to what has been really just a thought in my head for a while now. I did love the Jerry B. character. Wouldn't mind if she had continued with him as a sleuth! I'm just reading Sittaford now, and loving it.