I purchased a Miss Marple Omnibus not too long ago, and decided to read The Moving Finger for mine and Yamini’s Fifty Women Challenge. The novel was published in 1943, and takes place in Lymstock, a ‘village full of secrets’.
Injured war veteran Jerry Burton moves to the village with his sister, Joanna, on advice from his doctor: ‘”take a house, get interested in local politics, in local scandal, in village gossip. Take an inquisitive and violent interest in your neighbours”‘. Almost as soon as the siblings are settled into the house which they are renting from an elderly spinster named Emily Barton, they receive a poison pen letter. At first, they dismiss it as a joke, believing themselves to be merely moderately unwelcome newcomers, but soon afterwards, they find that such letters are ‘currently terrorising’ many of the inhabitants of the village: ‘In a place like Lymstock nothing nasty could happen. It is odd to think that it was just a week later that we got the first letter’.
This letter is made up of ‘printed words and letters… cut out and gummed to a sheet of paper’. It insinuates that Jerry and Joanna are not brother and sister, as they share very little in terms of looks. Of this, Jerry candidly tells us the following: ‘In novels, I have noticed, anonymous letters of a foul and disgusting character are never shown, if possible, to women. It is implied that women must at all cost be shielded from the shock it might give their delicate nervous systems. I am sorry to say it never occurred to me not to show the letter to Joanna. I handed it to her at once’.
Quite unusually, The Moving Finger makes use of the first person perspective; a rarity in the books by Christie which I have read to date. This builds Jerry up believably, and never does the narrative voice feel too effeminate, or its turns of phrase unlikely for a man within the period to utter. The character development has been believably structured too, and Christie’s descriptions of some of the story’s protagonists sum them up wonderfully in just a few deft phrases: ‘Joanna is very pretty and very gay, and she likes dancing and cocktails, and love affairs and rushing about in high-powered cars’. Oddly, Miss Marple does not make much of an appearance here, but the story does not suffer for it.
The Moving Finger is certainly one of the strongest Christie stories which I have read to date, and is one which I would heartily recommend.