Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Moving Finger (1943)

Plot: Poison-pen letters lead to tragedy in a small village.

The Poison-pen letter is a preoccupation of classic crime. Dorothy L Sayers' Gaudy Night dances high above the canon as an example of frustrated Women Who Hate (it being a staple of these stories that such letters are only written by women).

When Agatha Christie tackles poison pen letters, of course she wheels out a spinster to catch a spinster – but this is very much a novel in which Miss Marple cameos at best. Just as Cat Among The Pigeons is a delightful feast with Poirot as a digestif, Miss Marple totters along at the very end of this book to offer a neat solution.

In the meantime we're on familiar ground of gossip and suspicion and wise counsel in a small community. As usual, the servants are a problem – there's a death which may be suicide until a maid is found brutally slain because she knew too much but didn't speak out in time, the silly moo. From there on in it rattles along nicely until we realise that we've been looking in the wrong direction entirely and that this isn't a tale of a rotten community but a more domestic horror. With added Marple.

What makes this as a book is that it's really a love story – it's about the narrator falling in love with a girl who is variously described as ugly, simple, plain, backward and ill-dressed. However, almost without realising it, the narrator gives her a proper makeover and falls dazzlingly in love with her. This is the real heart of the book – that in an atmosphere of suspicion this unusual relationship doesn't come under attack is one of the biggest clues as to what is really going on. Of course, this doesn't escape Miss Marple's notice. Nor does she miss the shopping montage.

Curiously, Christie claims this as one of her favourites. Which is odd – it's certainly one of her more believable and moving love stories, but as a Miss Marple book it's a strange beast.

No comments:

Post a Comment