The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie gets its title from a verse by Omar Khayyám,
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
The Moving Finger was first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1942 and in UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1943.
A sudden spate of hate mail disturbs the peace of the little town of Lymstock. No body is willing to discuss it though until an inhabitant of the town commits suicide, apparently as a result of receiving one such letter.
The title of the book, The Moving Finger, is significant as the poison pen points his/her accusing finger towards the people of the town one after another through the letters.
One big grouse I have with The Moving Finger is the extremely late entry of Miss Marple. She comes in on the last 50 or so pages. It almost seems like she was added to the book sort of as an afterthought. But her appearance makes a difference for me at least. It manages to add a calming effect to the rather disturbing town of Lymstock. I’d very much prefer Lymstock with her as opposed to without her.
One thing that makes this book a good read for me is the appearance of Mrs. Dane Calthrop. Not many people may find her interesting but I do. Her abrupt way of coming and going from one place to another, the way she talks to people, the way people find her and conversations and observations alarming, makes her an unique creation. She appears in only one other Christie book, The Pale Horse.
Christie gives the reader’s a chance to solve the mystery midway through the story. She gives us a few clues through the narrator Jerry Barton’s subconscious in one of the more intriguing scenes of the book. He fails to solve it but a clever reader may spot a thing or two.
I like the atmosphere of the story. On one hand I savoured the perpetually lazy feeling of holiday the story seems to have. But on the other hand the story also has a sinister undercurrent. The whole town seems to be wearing the mask of well mannered, gentle people. One is never quite sure what lurks beneath their benign surfaces.
Among the characters of the story, I liked Megan. She seemed to have more depth and a far more interesting character than many of the more beautiful and feminine but dumb as doll heroines I’ve come across in mystery fictions. I found the narrator of the story, Jerry Barton to be quite dull. He and his sister, who are prominent characters in the story, are not that interesting.
The identity of the killer is rather startling. The ruthlessness of the killer’s character is surprising considering his/her exterior. But it seems so plausible once Miss Marple explains all.
The Moving Finger does make an interesting read. The sense of evil under the appearance of serenity makes Lymstock an uncomfortable place to visit, even if one does so only in one’s imagination.