After my recent Dumas-a-thon I thought I’d reward myself with a few weeks of easy, short reads. As much as I enjoyed The Count Of Monte Cristo, it can be kind of knackering reading the same mammoth book day after day. I’m not sure why that is; it’s not like I was reading any more than I would normally do. But in any case, I fancied something unchallenging and when it comes to gripping, easy-to-read books Agatha Christie is my go-to gal.
The Moving Finger is narrated by Jerry Burton, an injured airman sent to recuperate in the countryside after a nasty plane crash. He and his sister Joanna choose the quiet village of Lymstock and settle down in a little cottage for some peace and tranquillity while Jerry regains his strength. It soon transpires, however, that Lymstock is not the rural idyll they’d imagined and they’re intrigued to hear that over the past few months an anonymous letter writer has been terrorising its residents. It isn’t long before Jerry receives one of these poison pen letters himself. When a neighbour commits suicide after receiving a similarly vicious note it becomes vitally important that the writer is caught. Who is writing the letters? And will they resort to murder to cover their tracks?
It’s pretty lucky for the residents of Lymstock that the vicar’s wife knows a lovely old lady who’s got a good eye for solving crimes. I must say, however, that Miss Marple takes her own sweet time getting there. It’s the weird thing about Marple novels; half the time she’s not even in them. Maybe Christie was worried the old dear would get tired from too much exertion? Or maybe the whole point is that she succeeds only after everyone else has failed? Good old Marps.
This book was pretty much exactly what I was hoping it would be: entertaining, neatly, plotted, full of sneaky red herrings and clever twists. There isn’t ever a great deal of description or character development of course but I always love the dialogue, particularly gems like this little exchange between Jerry and the aforementioned vicar’s wife about the anonymous letters:
“Have you – er – had any yourself?”
“Oh yes, two – no three. I forget exactly what they said. Something very silly about Caleb and the schoolmistress, I think. Quite absurd because Caleb has absolutely no taste for fornication. He never has had. So lucky, being a clergyman.”
“Quite,” I said, “Oh quite.”
I’ve seen the TV adaptation of this particular novel but I have no long term memory and I couldn’t quite remember the identity of the culprit. I’m always rubbish at guessing anyway; I’d make a terrible detective.
My only real criticism of this book is that I didn’t like the romantic aspect of the story at all. I know it’s a mystery and the romance is just an annoying sideline but still, there was something just a little weird about it. It was making me uncomfortable. I’m sure to readers of the time it would’ve been perfectly lovely but I’m so glad that these sentiments aren’t quite as common as they used to be:
What a nice child she was, I thought. So pleased with everything, so unquestioning, accepting all my suggestions without fuss or bother….
But I was not giving up. Oh no! She was my woman and I was going to have her.
Wowzers. I’m pretty good at filtering out this sort of stuff (a book is a product of its time after all, right?) but that doesn’t make it any nicer to read.
Besides Jerry’s casual misogyny there isn’t a great deal to complain about with this book. I’m not sure it’ll become my favourite Agatha Christie mystery but it was a nice enough way of passing my lunch break and a couple of train journeys.