Saturday, May 28, 2016

”THE MOVING FINGER” (1942) Book Review

”THE MOVING FINGER” (1942) Book Review

Published in 1942, ”THE MOVING FINGER” is an Agatha Christie murder mystery about a small English town rocked by a series of poison pen letters that lead to suicide and murder. This particular novel featured the elderly Jane Marple as the story’s chief detective, despite the fact that the character only has a minor role. 

Set during the early years of World War II, Jerry and Joanna Burton are disaffected siblings from London society who take a country house in idyllic town of Lymstock, so that Jerry can rest from injuries received in a wartime plane crash. They are just getting to know the town's strange cast of characters when an anonymous letter arrives, rudely accusing the two of not being brother and sister, but lovers. They quickly discover that these letters have been recently circulating around town, indiscriminate and completely inaccurate. One of the letters eventually hits its target, when a local woman commits suicide after receiving hers. The story’s narrator – Jerry Burton – becomes suspicious that the woman’s maid may have witnessed something. Before he can alert the local police, the maid becomes a murder victim.

Author Agatha Christie has been known to admit that ”THE MOVING FINGER” was one of her favorites:

”"I find that another one [book] I am really pleased with is ”The Moving Finger’. It is a great test to re-read what one has written some seventeen or eighteen years before. One's view changes. Some do not stand the test of time, others do."

I wish I could agree with the renowned mystery writer. I really do. However . . . I found ”THE MOVING FINGER” to be very unimpressive. It struck me as pedestrian and rather sloppily written. It seemed as if Mrs. Christie did not put much effort to create a well written story. Even worse, this is supposed to be a Jane Marple novel. Yet, the elderly amateur detective did not even appear in the story, until the sixth chapter and appeared in a few scenes. And the novel only possessed eight chapters. Apparently one of the characters, the vicar’s wife, had decided to summon the one person she felt could solve the case – namely Miss Marple. Unfortunately, Christie used the elderly visitor from St. Mary Mead as a minor,deus ex machine style character. Which I found very disappointing. 

The only interest I found in ”THE MOVING FINGER” was the romance between Jerry Burton and Megan Hunter, the twenty year-old daughter of the woman who had committed suicide. I found it interesting, due to Burton being an interesting narrator. However, I also found his condescending attitude toward Megan and the ugly ducking/beautiful swan motif that surrounded her character and their romance barely palatable. All right, I found it damn annoying. But I must say that it was a hell of a lot more interesting that the main mystery. Speaking of which, it was not much of a mystery to me, considering that I was able to guess the identity of the murderer by the third or fourth chapter.

I am major fan of Agatha Christie. I have been one for years – ever since I was thirteen years old. But I must admit that”THE MOVING FINGER” proved to be quite a disappointment to me. It seemed like a hastily written murder mystery, in which the main detective has only a few brief appearance. It also possessed an annoying romance between the novel’s slightly condescending narrator and a gauche twenty year-old. Christie could have done better than this.

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