Friday, December 14, 2018

Agatha Christie, The Moving Finger

Agatha Christie, The Moving Finger
Original publication, 1942
© Agatha Christie Mallowan 1942, renewed 1970

The third novel in which Miss Jane Marple appears (also, by 1942, a collection of short stories was in print).  It’s a rather strange novel; the narrator (Jerry; I could not find, in a quick look through the opening chapters find his last name) and his sister (Joanna) have rented a house in the village of Lymstock.  He’s recovering from crashing an airplane and she’s keeping him company and caring for him

The first strangeness is this: The book was published in 1942, but is apparently not set during World War II—there is no mention of it.  It’s not made clear what sort of plane crash occurred—was he a military pilot?  Commercial?  Rich and flying more or less as a hobby?  The second strangeness (as far as I’m concerned) is that he and his sister apparently have a substantial private income, but virtually no mention is made of it.  The third strangeness is that, for all this is a “Miss Marple” mystery, she does not appear until p. 128 (of 181).  And she does nothing that even begins to approach an investigation.  In fact, we don’t even see her talking much with people about the murders.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  We do discover—on p. 1—that we have an outbreak of “poison pen” letters; Jerry and Joanna receive one alleging that they are not really brother and sister, but are living in sin in Lymstock.  Joanna tosses it into the fireplace, but Jerry rescues it, and turns it over to the police.  Investigating these things is quite obviously difficult, but the local police and the Scotland Yard specialist seem to know what they are doing, but only a little progress is made.  As late as Miss Marple’s arrival, there’s still nothing pointing to anyone in particular.  But things have progressed to an apparent suicide and to murder.  And to various emotional entanglements (including one between Jerry and a young woman in the village—Megan-although, at least so far as I could tell, that was just stuck in to allow something of a happy ending to occur).

Miss Marple, of course, explains all at the end.  Although, again at least as it seems to me, she got to the solution without a particularly convincing explanation of how, or why.  But perhaps I expected too much.  (I will note that this is not the only Miss Marple mystery in which her presence occurs quite late in the story.  In these cases, Miss Marple, and her solutions, become something akin to Hitchcock’s Maguffins—in these cases, way to wrap the book up.  They obviously don’t work well for me.)

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