Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Poison Pen: The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

published 1942









Living in the country was like a new game to my attractive sister.

‘At any rate,’ she said, ‘I look all right, don’t I?’

I studied her critically and was not able to agree.

Joanna was dressed (by Mirotin) for le Sport. That is to say she was wearing a skirt of outrageous and preposterous checks. It was skin-tight, and on her upper half she had a ridiculous little short-sleeved jersey with a Tyrolean effect. She had sheer silk stockings and some irreproachable but brand new brogues.

‘No,’ I said, ‘you’re all wrong. You ought to be wearing a very old tweed skirt, preferably of dirty green or faded brown. You’d wear a nice cashmere jumper matching it, and perhaps a cardigan coat, and you’d have a felt hat and thick stockings and old shoes. Then, and only then, you’d sink into the background of Lymstock High Street, and not stand out as you do at present.’ I added: ‘Your face is all wrong, too.’

‘What’s wrong with that? I’ve got on my Country Tan Make-up No. 2.’

‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘If you lived in Lymstock, you would have on just a little powder to take the shine off your nose, and possibly a soupcon of lipstick – not very well applied – and you would almost certainly be wearing all your eyebrows instead of only a quarter of them.’



observations: I’m collecting outbreaks of poison pen letters in books at the moment (see here and watch for more, or click on the label below), and this book really is Exhibit A.

I recently did a blogpost on my favourite Agatha Christie novels, and I said about The Moving Finger:

This has been one of my favourites since I first read it as a young teenager – it has a particularly satisfying plot, very well-worked-out, and Marple is sharp and has sensible things to say. But of course secretly, what really sold it to the very young me was the makeover scene, where Megan Hunter is whisked off to London by narrator Jerry, because he has recognized her inner beauty. This was one of the original scenes I wanted to illustrate on Clothes in Books (see more of them in this entry), and it is astonishing that I haven’t yet done it.
-- but when the moment came, this was a much better scene. The makeover (and oh, Clothes in Books does love a makeover) is wonderful. Jerry is given the killer line ‘It just infuriates me to see you so slack’, and then, half a day’s magic later –
Megan was standing looking at herself in a long mirror. I give you my word I hardly recognised her! Tall and slim as a willow with delicate ankles and feet.. quality and distinction in every line of her…
-- but there is very little about the clothes, it’s left vague. And Joanna being country is a nice little bit of satirical observation.

The plot concerns poison pen letters in a small village and though short and straightforward I think is very well-done, very clever and full of good clues (not always the case with Marple).

More poison pens to come – click on the label below - and there will be  is a list of books and tropes.

20 comments:

  1. Love the picture you've used. A bit less sure about the book - I think I'll stick with what I have for now.

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    1. You can't say Dame Agatha doesn't give you lots to choose from! I'm sure you will become addicted at some point, and then you will go back and read them all....

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  2. Moira - I'm so glad you highlighted this book. I love the interaction of personalities in it, and you're right that it's got a solid 'whodunit' and good clues. And I do adore that makeover scene. I like the way Christie writes about the cultural mismatch between Joanna and life in Lymstock, too.

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    1. It's such a satisfying book isn't it? I like the way it is a comforting read, but at the same time subverts the conventions.

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  3. Moira, I like Agatha Christie's brand of humour as evident from the last paragraph of the passage you quoted above. Her humour is often "hidden" in innocuous sentences. Your review is a reminder to read the Miss Marple novels. So far it's been Poirot all the way.

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    1. Exactly, Prashant - sometimes you have to read a sentence twice to be sure that she was being funny, not serious.

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  4. The doctor's (unmarried) sister recommends keeping busy - but her life is obviously empty!

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    1. Nicely put, Lucy. And she thinks Megan is 'slack' too. I think I am going to take up using that word.

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  5. Nothing is more sinister than a moving finger. :)

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  6. What did Omar Khayyám know about fashion anyway! I have read this one, but it was yolks ago - I remember Harry Enfield being in one of the more recent TV adaptations, which was a bit of a surprise ...

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    1. Yes he was, wasn't he? I thought that one was well done, I enjoyed it, thought that was partly because of the array of beautiful frocks as well as the high-class actors.
      At a young age I managed to impress someone with the Omar Khayam quote, even though I only knew it because of this book - another reason to have a soft spot for it.

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  7. I rather like poison pen stories, and even wrote one myself a while back. I've just read a very obscure one by J.J. Connington that I'll be blogging about soon. Meanwhile, it's good to be reminded of this enjoyable Christie.

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    1. Yes, me too. I'll look out for yours, and also look forward to hearing about the Connington.

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  8. Is that shoe what a brogue is? I've always wondered as I see it referred to often in books.

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    1. It's certainly brogue-like, maybe brogues have to have little decorative holes in?

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  9. This is my next one to read for the Miss Marple series. I don't know what it is with me reading no Agatha Christie yet this year.

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    1. I hope you'll like it Tracy, as I say, it's one of my favourites. I'll be interested to read your review.

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  10. This is such a charming Christie - lots to love about it, but I especially love that scene of transformation - it's one of my favourite tropes in a book. There's a great one too in Murder on the Blue Train.

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    1. Yes it is charming - it could almost fit into my list of books-about-young-girls-getting-on. For me it definitely has that same appeal. Haven't read Blue Train in years, I can see I'm going to get it out now.... your fault.

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