The Moving Finger, by Agatha Christie

>> Tuesday, January 29, 2013

TITLE: The Moving Finger
AUTHOR: Agatha Christie

PAGES: 240
PUBLISHER: William Morrow

SETTING: 1940s England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: Technically a Miss Marple mystery

Lymstock is much like any other English village. Those that live there enjoy the peace of rural life until a series of poison pen letters destroy the safety they took for granted. When one villager commits suicide and another is murdered, the village is plunged into suspicion and terror. Once a village of trust, now all inhabitants are full of accusations. Who could be writing the letters and why? Perhaps Miss Marple might be of help...

Jerry Burton and his sister Joanna are both sophisticated urbanites, whose natural environment is the big city. But alas, Jerry's an RAF pilot and he's had a pretty bad crash. He's well on his way to recovery, but his doctor recommends total peace and quiet. Ideally, he should bury himself in the country for a while, until he regains his strength.

This is how the two wind up in Lymstock, a sleepy country village. Except, it turns out Lymstock is not as quiet as they thought it would be. Someone is sending nasty poison-pen letters to what seems like every single one of the villagers, accusing them of all sorts of things. The accusations are completely preposterous, but people have a way of saying "no smoke without fire", so the village is soon in turmoil. And then someone dies, a suicide, and not long after that, someone else in the same household is murdered. The police are on the case, but the vicar's wife thinks she might call in an expert, someone who knows more about wickedness than anyone else she knows. Wonder who that is?

I should make this plain from the first: this is barely a Miss Marple book. She shows up really late (way into disc 5 of 6, in the audiobook I was listening to), and she really doesn't do a great deal. However, I didn't particularly mind, as it was a really good one, anyway.

The plotting is solid and entertaining, with plenty of red herrings, and when the truth is revealed, you get a great a-ha! moment. I had my own theory, which was completely wrong, and clearly one into which Christie had skilfully maneouvered me without me noticing a thing. Probably amongst her best.

The cast of characters in the village was a really good one, as well. They're individual and quirky. I didn't like all of them, obviously, but all were interesting, and all had at their core at least a grain of truth. The only exception, I'm afraid, is Jerry's love interest. That romance left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, as this character was written as a strange and unbelievable cross between a small child and a loyal dog. Jerry is young himself, but the disparity in mental age made it all a bit icky. Still, Joanna gets a romance herself, as well, and that one I was very satisfied by, so not too bad.

The Moving Finger was first published in 1942, and was written during the war. Surprisingly,the only (and pretty oblique, at that) reference to the war is Jerry being an RAF pilot and having been injured. Other than that, nothing at all. There's even a trip to London where everything seems just fine, no rationing, no problems at all. I was intrigued by this. I find it hard to believe that it would have been like that in reality, so I'm guessing it was a conscious decision on Christie's part, possible to allow readers their escapism without them having to think about what was actually going on at the time?

MY GRADE: A B. Would be a B+ if it weren't for that icky romance.

AUDIOBOOK NOTES: As I run through my library's Agatha Christie's audiobooks, I've started to form preferences for the readers. James Saxton is definitely not my favourite. The voices he does for some characters (usually secondary characters, thanks heavens) are too often preposterous, over-the-top and annoying. His women are especially bad, working class women the worse.


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