While Agatha Christie’s “The Moving Finger” does not have the most exciting plot (and in fact, as it was with “A Pocket Full of Rye“, the amateur consulting detective Miss Jane Marple hardly features until the very end) there were enough features to keep the reader engaged. Before the suicide, the climax of the book, the protagonist and narrator Jerry Burton foreshadowed what was to come – “In a place like Lymstock nothing nasty could happen” and “But peace and quiet were the last things we were to have” – and the book then moved to the anonymous poison pen letters and the climax.
Throughout “The Moving Finger”, Christie also dropped hints – and red herrings, such as the “local witch” Mrs. Cleat and her past misdeeds, and the questions about Mona Symmington’s medical condition and the medication she was prescribed – of the letter-writer and later the murderer. Very early on, for instance, Burton told local doctor Owen Griffith that the letter he received was an illiterate sort of letter, “written by somebody practically illiterate”. Griffith’s “Was it?” reply, thereafter, was found by Burton to be “disturbing”. Complicating the Burton’s investigation were the many rumours and half-truths floating around the town, as he worked with the police to narrow the potential pool of suspects.
The police went about with their inquiries in a scientific and methodical fashion, and it was only on page 167 (of 226 pages altogether) when Miss Marple was called upon. “We want someone who knows a great deal about wickedness”, “someone who knows people”, and not just “someone who knows about anonymous letters or even about murder”. And from that point, it becomes more obvious that both Burton and the reader – as a result of deliberate misdirection – have been looking “at the wrong thing in the wrong place”, and with the amateur consulting detective taking over the book sped quickly to the revelation and the resolution. The little trap was designed and executed nicely, though critics would nitpick that the ending was a tad rushed, and that the motive for the murder was unsatisfactory.