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Dooyoo didn't have "The Moving Finger" listed as a review option but a little suggestion from me soon altered that.....
Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, which introduced the now famous Hercule Poirot was published in 1920. Her other well known creation, Miss Marple, first appeared in a short story in 1927 before appearing in her first full length novel, "The Murder At The Vicarage" in 1930.
During her lifetime Christie wrote a number of novels, short stories, poetry & plays. Her play "The Mousetrap" holds the world record for the longest run in history as it has been performed since 1952.
Christie is estimated to have sold around 4 billion copies of her collected works, putting her second only to The Bible. She was married twice and was a Dame of the British Empire. She died on January 12th 1976.
After Miss Marple debuted in Murder At The Vicarage (1930), Marple fans had to wait 11 years for the second full length story, The Body In The Library to be published in 1941. The wait for the third novel, The Moving Finger wasn't quite so long as it was published the following year (1942). This third full length novel was set not in Miss Marple's home village of St. Mary Mead but in a small market town somewhere in the South of England named Lymstock. Christie had used a narrator for Miss Marple's debut novel and she returned again to this format for The Moving Finger.
Recovering from an unspecified flying accident Jerry Burton and his sister Joanna rent a house named Little Furze in the small rural backwater market town of Lymstock in order to aid his recuperation. Not long after they've moved in Joanna receives an anonymous letter claiming that they are not actually brother and sister. They soon become aware that a number of other people in Lymstock have received similar letters and that nobody, even the police, has any firm evidence of who is sending them.
Things take a sinister turn when the contents of the letter to Mrs. Symmington, wife of the local solicitor, cause her to take her own life. It then takes a murder before Mrs. Dane Calthrop, the vicar's wife decided to call in her very own "expert", Miss Jane Marple to look into things. Can she unravel the mystery before any more letters are sent or murders committed?
With the move from St. Mary Mead to Lymstock Agatha Christie was able to create a whole new guest cast of characters for her third full length novel.
As with most Christie novels the guest characters are written with varying degrees of depth and characterisation. The narrator, of course, comes across to the reader quite clearly, but, despite the fact that it's his "voice" that speaks to us I can't say that there's anything special about his character that makes me warm to him.
Megan, Mr. Symmington's step daughter is quite well drawn and her ugly duckling, awkward young woman character is different from most of the young female characters you find in a Christie novel.
However, the majority of characters are perhaps no different to characters that you'd find in other novels that Christie has written. The possible exception to this is Mr. Pye, the original Only Gay In The Village who does conform to a number of gay stereotypes.
The Moving Finger is a little different to most Agatha Christie novels. The usual format for one of her murder mysteries is for someone to be murdered. Other characters in the novel may have various motives for killing the murdered person and these may be revealed during the course of conversations between the detective and various suspects. Potential clues may also be revealed at particular points in the narrative. There may be one or more subsequent murders. The reader, of course, can "play along" by trying to spot the clues and solve the murder(s) before the detective does.
The Moving Finger deviates from this formula by concentrating on the poison pen letters. My 1986 edition of the novel is 217 pages in length and the death of Mrs. Symmington occurs on page 62. Both before and after this event there appears to be very little evidence as to who the writer of the anonymous letters might be. The police call in an expert but the only assistance that the reader is given is that the expert thinks that the letter writer is a woman. I personally found this quite frustrating as there didn't appear to be anything concrete in the narrative that might allow me to formulate a theory as to who the letter writer might be. If you are "playing detective" and you reach this stage you then start to question whether there have been clues in the narrative that you've actually missed. Has the writer disguised them so cleverly that they've completely gone over your head?
Miss Marple herself is little more than a bystander in her third full length "outing". She makes her first appearance on page 163 in a conversation with Jerry Burton, the narrator and Mrs Dane Calthrop, the vicar's wife. She has two further conversations with various characters before appearing again at the end of the novel to explain exactly who was writing the letters and why as well as clearing up a few other questions. From a reader's point of view the fact that Miss Marple has had so little involvement in the novel makes the ease of her explanation at the end seem a little contrived and rushed.
In terms of characters Megan, Mr. Symmington's step daughter is perhaps the most interesting. Barely out of her teens she's still, to all intents and purposes an awkward teenager. Her mother and step-father all but ignore her and focus all of their attention on their own children and she comes across as a real loner. Whilst there's not a great deal of emotional depth to her portrayal in the book she still elicits sympathy from the reader, especially if you're the sort of person who is detached from their family or peers. There is, however, a sequence later in the book when Megan undergoes a sudden transformation from ugly duckling to beautiful swan which, as with the ease of Miss Marple's explanation, feels a bit contrived.
Christie stuck to a number of stereotypes with her portrayal of Mr. Pye. He's described as "an extremely ladylike plump little man, devoted to his petit point chairs, his Dresden shepherdesses and his collection of bric-a-brac". His abode is branded as "hardly a man's house" and some of his speech comes across as particularly camp with certain of his words being accentuated (these are shown in italics). He also has "strange visitors" sometimes and these elements are enough to make Joanna think that he's the sender of the poison pen letters. Never mind the fact that she doesn't have anything concrete on which to base her suspicions. Still, you have to give Christie credit for including a gay character in her novel, even if he's not shown in the most positive and well rounded light.
In fact, none of the male characters do very well in this novel at all. Jerry Burton, the narrator has nothing that marks him out as special, Owen Galbraith, the local doctor seems rather shy and Mr. Symmington seems very controlled and perhaps a bit repressed. It's the female characters, Megan, Joanna Burton, Owen's sister Aimee and the vicar's wife, Mrs. Dane Calthrop who are all proactive and drive the action forward much more than their male counterparts.
Overall this is my least favourite of the first three Marple novels. Much of the book reads almost like a diary covering the happenings in Lymstock as seen through the eyes of Jerry Burton. For much of the book we have no idea what the police are up to and we're certainly not privy to any questioning that they may have carried out. Jerry Burton isn't really a detective type character either. He's more of an observer and recorded of information rather than taking a more proactive role and attempting to discover as much as he can about his neighbours. I suppose that you could argue that this makes it harder for the reader to guess the solution to the mystery and, in a sense, this is true. However, on the flip side of the coin the fact that you have no motive or suspects for the letters means that you're not really able to "play detective" like you can with the majority of Christie's over novels. As such this leaves you feeling less involved with events because you have little or nothing to ponder and theorise over.
In conclusion I'd say that this is just an "ok" Marple novel. Fans of the lady herself will probably be very disappointed at how little she features in it.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper; Masterpiece ed edition (4 Mar 2002)