I Try to Solve An Agatha Christie Mystery: The Moving Finger (Miss Marple)

MovingFingerInspired by this YouTube video, where a book vlogger named Emmie decided to try solving The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, I decided to give the project a go myself. Roger Ackroyd is one of Christie’s best-known mysteries, and while it’s not one of my personal favourites, I knew it for its history-making big reveal, and part of the fun was watching Emmie come into it cold and try to puzzle it out.

As a long-time Christie fan, I figured my odds were better than Emmie’s. After all, I already knew that I had to rule out the mysteries with Christie’s most iconic twists: And Then There Were NoneMurder on the Orient Express, and Curtain all had shocking reveals, yet were all too memorable for me to try to play detective myself. Personal Christie favourites like A Murder is Announced, Sleeping Murder, Murder on the Links, Death on the Nile, ABC Murders, Crooked House were also out of the question. Surely, I thought, the mysteries that remained for me to try solving should be somewhat easier to tackle?

Enter the Miss Marple mystery The Moving Finger. A series of poison pen letters results in a(n apparent?) suicide and then a murder. I’ve had the ebook for years and must have read it at some point, but I could no longer remember who the letter writer or killer were. Small town, lots of gossip, an anonymous and malicious letter writer? Sounds like exactly the kind of soap opera-ish mystery melodrama I love!


Detective hat on, little grey cells at the ready!

And so, armed with my trusty detective notebook (an unused AGO notebook that’s been gathering dust since I can’t even remember when), a ballpoint pen, and my little grey cells, I set to work. Within the first few chapters (16% of the book), I had pages of notes, strong theories about the poison pen writer’s identity and motives, and a renewed appreciation for Christie’s craft in creating complex, psychologically textured characters. I also had a bit of a headache from actively paying attention to the characters and their backstories, rather than just sitting back and waiting for Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot to tell me what actually happened. Detective work is harder than I thought!

By the 60% mark, I had two really strong (or so I think) theories about the murderer and their motive. It was around this point that I started to feel really smug: the Queen of Crime thought she was being clever, but here I was already outsmarting her at barely even past the halfway point.

Then I kept reading. At some point Miss Marple shows up and starts making cryptic little side comments about things that are apparently “interesting” and actions that are supposedly “brave.” And then my confidence falters. Because suddenly, I realize that my two very strong theories don’t really make all that much sense. And while they address some aspects of the mystery, they also create some big gaping logic holes. So I tried thinking through both theories, and testing out a couple alternative theories that maybe fit the puzzle a bit more fulsomely. By the 74% mark, I realized that I had a whole mess of new clues, theories, and suspects, and zero idea what had actually happened.


My detective notebook, with all my notes and theories.

It was at the 87% mark that I realized I needed to stop reading. Things were coming to a head, and I could tell the big reveal was coming up soon. I figured it was time for me to take a pause to study all my clues and come up with a final theory about who the letter writer and murderer is/are. At this point, I had about four rather wild (and no longer strong) theories, and close to zero confidence any of them made logical sense.


So: did I solve the mystery? Can I now brag that I’ve outsmarted the Queen of Crime?

The answer, I’m afraid, is no, not even in the least bit close. Yes, this suspect flitted through my mind at one point while reading the book, but to be honest, all the characters flitted through my mind as suspects at one point or another, and this particular one barely made a dent.

Bah. So much for my impeccable little grey cells.

Onward and upward then, and on to find another Christie mystery to solve. Go, little grey cells, go!

The actual solution, along with my wild theories, are all beneath the spoiler tag below. Read on if you’re curious; skip if you want to read this book for yourself. (It’s much more fun coming in cold!)


My Theory / My Detective Big Reveal:

My clues:

  • The poison pen letters were all false accusations, except possibly for the one that Mrs Symmington received, because otherwise, why did she suicide?
  • The letter Joanna Burton received was originally addressed to Miss Emily Barton. (The narrator, her brother Jerry, commented that they later realized its significance, when “interpreted in a particular way.”)
  • Miss Marple commented that “it’s the most interesting thing so far,” referring either to the fact that Miss Elsie Holland, the Symmingtons’ governess, never received a letter, or that Miss Elsie Holland lied about never having received a letter yet Jerry and Superintendent Nash believed her.
  • Miss Emily Barton lied when she said she never received a letter. Her former maid, Florence, who’s super devoted to her, told Superintendent Nash that Miss Emily had in fact received several letters, accusing her of having killed her mother and sisters.

My theory:

  • I think Mrs Symmington didn’t die by suicide; I think she was murdered.
    • Why? She died by cyanide instead of simply taking an overdose of her sleeping pills, which would have been more painless. That speaks more of a murderer wanting to ensure the job was done than someone wanting to take their own life. There’s also little reason to suicide, even if the accusation in her note was true; at that point, everyone had received a poison pen letter and everyone knew most of the accusations were false.
  • And I think Agnes the maid was killed because she witnessed the murder. So whomever killed Mrs Symmington (whether by a letter driving her to suicide or by poison) killed Agnes.

My suspects:

  • Miss Emily Barton, and/or possibly Florence.
    • Why? I think the letters Miss Emily received were real. And that Florence, out of devotion for her mistress, wrote the poison pen letters to obscure the fact.
    • However: Why would Miss Emily or Florence kill Mrs Symmington? Why would they keep up the letters for so long after their contents were mostly already debunked? And why on earth would they send Elsie Holland that random letter at the end and frame Aimee Griffith for the crimes? Also, how would either of them have known that Agnes had witnessed the letter writer on the day of Mrs Symmington’s death?
    • But What If? What if Florence lied about the content of Miss Emily’s letters? According to Mr Pye, one of the Barton sisters (Emily or Agnes) had an affair with a curate, but their mother stopped the marriage because the curate was poor. What if it was Emily, and she had a daughter, and the letter accused her of having a child out of wedlock? What if the child were Elsie Holland, and Miss Emily killed Mrs Symmington because she wanted her daughter to have the true love story she missed out on?
  • Elsie Holland
    • Why? She wanted to marry Mr Symmington herself, and so she killed Mrs Symmington to get her out of the way. She framed Aimee Griffith for the crime because she could tell Aimee was also in love with Mr Symmington (Aimee told Jerry earlier that she’d “known Dick Symmington really well and for a long time”), and also wanted to get her out of the way. She could have written the other poison pen letters to cover up the one to Mrs Symmington, except the maid Agnes saw her.
    • However: Why wouldn’t she have sent herself a poison pen letter as well, to help deflect suspicion off herself? She also seems too obvious a suspect; not quite a surprising enough reveal for Agatha Christie.
  • Megan Hunter
    • Why? She hated her mother; she often spoke about identifying with King Lear’s daughters Regan and Goneril, whom she believed were driven to their crimes by bad parenting. She also seems most likely to take delight in writing the poison pen letters, just for fun. And she overheard that Agnes was coming over to see Partridge, and could’ve realized that Agnes was a threat. Also, despite flirting with Jerry, she turned down his marriage proposal; is it because she wanted to stay home to protect her stepfather from Elsie (Miss Marple called her actions “brave”), or is she in love with her stepfather herself (could be why she’s happy Jerry got her a haircut and pretty clothes)?
    • However: Miss Marple calls her brave, and Joanna seems happy that Jerry’s fallen in love with Megan. She also seems a bit too remorseful to be the murderer; she keeps talking about how she’s full of hate and fear, but it feels a lot more like self-loathing than actually loathing other people enough to murder them. She also seems genuinely horrified at her mother’s death.

My final conclusion:

Megan wrote the poison pen letters for fun. Her remorse later in the story was because she had no idea how bad things would get because of her letters, and her desire for new clothes and a new look was her way of trying to grow up and become a whole new person.

Either Miss Emily (or Florence for Miss Emily) killed Mrs Symmington. One of Megan’s letters landed on the truth, that Miss Emily had a child with the curate out of wedlock. The letter horrified Miss Emily, but also made her realize that Miss Elsie Holland was that child. Maybe she wanted to give her daughter a happy romance with Mr Symmington, so she killed Mrs Symmington and wrote that letter to obscure the murder. Or maybe she guessed Megan wrote the letter, and decided to kill Mrs Symmington to get Megan out of that house? Either way, Agnes the maid witnessed the act, and so was killed. The envelope for Joanna’s letter was from the letter Miss Emily received; Miss Emily or Florence needed to get a typed letter out to Joanna quickly to deflect suspicion from them, and so just re-used the envelope.

Why frame Aimee Griffith? Just to get the mystery solved and keep attention away from the real culprits.

Miss Marple’s Actual Reveal:

It turns out that it was Mr Symmington who killed his wife, because he wanted to marry Elsie. He killed Agnes, not because she saw him drop a poison pen letter in the mail, but because she saw nothing that day, yet Mrs Symmington supposedly received a poison pen letter anyway. Mrs Symmington’s suicide note was written on a scrap of paper, which was significant because suicide notes are usually written on a full sheet, so the scrap meant it could have been taken from a more innocuous memo. Miss Marple called Megan brave because she was part of Superintendent Nash’s plan to trick Mr Symmington into confessing.

The anonymous letters writ large were the smoke screen. When you remove them altogether, what you’re left with is Mrs Symmington’s death, and her husband had a clear motive to make that happen.

5 thoughts on “I Try to Solve An Agatha Christie Mystery: The Moving Finger (Miss Marple)

    • Have you managed to solve one yet? I’m trying my luck with At Bertram’s Hotel now, and so far, I’m feeling confident that I’m picking up on all sorts of important clues. (I’m only two chapters in though, so that’s likely not the case. 😀 )

      • I could NOT guess that one at all! Not even a little bit!

        The only one where I’ve figured out the murderer and the motive was “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side” and even then I couldn’t possibly have guessed the book’s resolution.

  1. Pingback: Why Readers Still Love Agatha Christie Mysteries : The Fiction Addiction

  2. Pingback: I Try to Solve An Agatha Christie Mystery: At Bertram’s Hotel (Miss Marple) | Literary Treats

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