This mystery, technically one of Christie’s Miss Marple novels, barely scrapes into the Marple series, since the much-loved elderly sleuth only makes an appearance three-quarters into the book and remains little more than a cameo. I’d go as far as say that the novel didn’t really need her and is strong enough to stand on its own.
This one was an odd Christie to revisit: while I had vivid memories of the novel’s premise, setting and some of the characters, I forgot everything about the victim, the culprit reveal and the details of the crime. At this point, I’m familiar enough with Dame Agatha’s bag of tricks to figure out what’s up quite early on, but either way the mystery aspect here is only serviceable.
Luckily, there’s still plenty to enjoy about The Moving Finger. Our narrator is Jerry Burton, a pilot recovering from a plane crash, who is prescribed a peaceful and relaxing stay in the country by his doctor. Together with his loyal and fashionable sister Joanna, Jerry moves to Lymstock, the kind of provincial backwater town where nothing ever happens. Naturally, as the reader you’re well aware that peace and quiet is the last thing Jerry’s going to get.
Before the invention of the internet and social media, people had to troll each other through regular mail, and it seems that sleepy Lymstock got its own poisoned pen. Soon after their arrival, Jerry and Joanna receive an anonymous letter making all sorts of foul accusations about their relationship. They’re happy to laugh it off as a ridiculous stunt from some crank with a grudge against newcomers, but it appears that many Lymstock locals have also received similar hate mail. It all stops being a mere unpleasantness when one of the letters seems to strike a nerve and results in a suicide, followed by a murder. Quiet uneventful little town indeed!
Though I kinda panned it earlier, the mystery is not without some neat touches, including trickery with the language that I’m sure gave foreign language translators a challenge. Even so, this Christie is more concerned with the characters, their interactions and some amusing social comedy, rather than mechanics of the crime. Jerry and Joanna are a fun duo, not natural detectives, but naturally curious and not without brains either. Between Jerry, the rather capable Superintendent Nash and Mrs Dane Calthrop, the formidable wife of the vicar, the mystery surely could have been solved without dragging Miss Marple in at the eleventh hour.
Lymstock locals are also engaging, and include one of my favourite secondary Christie characters, Megan Hunter, the daughter of the woman who commits suicide. Megan is a socially awkward, bright and blunt twenty-year-old who is neglected by her family and is considered an oddball at best by most in town. There’s a strong element of romance in the novel, and for once it’s done pretty well, though its mix of Cinderella and Pygmalion might not please some modern sensibilities. I wasn’t surprised to see that the recent TV adaptation with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple shuffled some details around, but hey at least it kept the romance.