Rowling’s Love for ‘The Moving Finger’

This recent tweet from The Presence was not a revelation but a repetition of something she said to Val McDermid in 2014. I read Moving Finger in 2018 and discussed its importance to Serious Strikers in a post about the several important parallels between it and Cormoran’s adventures. Just for starters, can you say “faked suicide that is really a murder”?

I reproduce that post after the jump but you’ll want to read the comments from Strike Fans and myself at the original page for the full-influence dosage. If you want more about Rowling and Christie, the author with whom Rowling has the most in common, be sure to check out the seventeen posts on that subject at the Rowling-Christie Pillar Post. Enjoy!

The author with which J. K. Rowling has most in common in terms of books sold, following, and preferred genre is Agatha Christie. Rowling, however, has said relatively little about the ‘World’s Best Selling Novelist‘ and the ‘Queen of Crime,’ a near silence that made her Christie reflections in her interview with Val McDermid that much more interesting:

Christie who was someone who interested me a great deal because she was writing much of her career to outrun the tax man. Hence her incredibly patchy output. But she could shuffle those cards and fool you, couldn’t she, again and again and again. Sometimes very plausibly, sometimes not so plausibly. But she had that almost mathematical ability to fool you. And that’s something not many could do as well as she did it. Although the quality of writing I know was patchy. My favorite Christie is Moving Finger which is a Miss Marple, but narrated by a man and she does it rather well.

I’d never read Moving Finger but finally bought a copy and read it last week. Here are my ‘Three Points of Interest between Rowling’s “favorite Christie” The Moving Finger and Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike Mysteries’ for your consideration, correction, and comment. 

(1) The Book, Author, Plot Point Correspondences: As she says, “narrated by a man and she does it rather well.” This is what Rowling set out to do as ‘Robert Galbraith,’ no? The Moving Finger narrator is a pilot who has been in a plane crash and has trouble walking without “two sticks” (crutches?); the novel was written in 1942 so I think it safe to say the reader would naturally think the man an RAF pilot. There is a wonderfully unlikely pair of romances and a Greek goddess femme fatale in the story as well. Which should sound familiar to Serious Strikers. And the conceit of the anonymous letters, though not a feature of any of the first four Strike novels, certainly is a feature of Casual Vacancy.

(2) The Suicide Mystery: The defining murder of the mystery novel is a death the police rule to be a suicide but turns out to be — well, not a suicide. As the players investigating the case say several times, the murderer is a master of “narrative misdirection” (I kid you not). There is a similarity with the seeming suicide set-up in Lethal White, too, both with respect to means and who commits the murder that I’ll let you discover. To the point, the murders of Cuckoo’s Calling and Lethal White are both faked suicides and the growing consensus at HogwartsProfessor is that Strike7 will feature the revelation that Leda Strike’s death was not a suicide, either, but a calculated murder. That Rowling’s “favorite Christie” has as its chief plot point that Galbraith uses for the first and central novels and probably its overarching story is no small thing.

(3) The Shadow of Real Life: Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days in 1926 after she learned that her husband was leaving her for another woman. When she was discovered staying at a spa (under the name of her husband’s lover), Christie claimed to have been suffering from amnesia. The bizarre event that captured national attention and a headlines catching woman-hunt is not mentioned in her autobiography. It may be reflected, however, not so obliquely in the plot of Moving Finger if the popular theory is true that her disappearance was a faked suicide meant to incriminate the cheating husband. It is, I’m sure, the model for Owen Quine’s “disappearance” in The Silkworm and how publishers and the like dismiss it as a publicity stunt until his corpse is found.

That’s a hurried and relatively spoiler free introduction to Moving Finger which I hope serves as a big push for you to pick it up and read it, especially if you are interested in Cormoran Strike.

I’m sure, too, that I’ve missed a lot. What, though, am I missing? Let me know by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by this post’s headline!


  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Interesting – thank you!

    I think the “sticks” are canes – I have images – cinematic? real life? of people walking with two canes…

    Tangentially, we’ve just enjoyed a splendid audiobook of Margery Allingham’s The Beckoning Lady, which has deaths that are, variously, natural, or suicide – or not, or murder, or accidental (etc.: to avoid spoilers). It also has a lot of specifically Midsummer Night’s Dream and other Shakespearean references which immediately reminded me of Beatrie Groves’ recent FB3 post. Do we know if JKR knows The Beckoning Lady?

  2. When it comes to further links between Rowling and Christie, an interesting number of commonalities have been uncovered by Janet Morgan, in her book “Agatha Christie: A Biography”. If you turn to pages 18 and 19 of chapter two, the reader is given the following information, starting with the Queen of Crime’s Mum:

    “Clara’s views on education were almost as inconsistent and “advanced” as her religious opinions. Agatha was not only to be educated at home, …but Clara now maintained that no child should be allowed to read until it was eight years old, since delay was better for the eyes as well as the brain. This was too much to hope for in Agatha’s case. She was fascinated by words and phrases, lived among talkative adults who were natural storytellers and was surrounded by books…: Walter Crane’s “Panpipes”, a wonderful book of songs like ‘Willow, O Willow’ and ‘Early One Morning’, with swirling art nouveau illustrations of elves, flowers and wreaths; fairy tales like “The Giant’s Robe” and “Under the Water, the story of children who discover and extraordinary world beneath a stream. One enduring memory was of reading “The Adventures of Herr Baby” while staying with Aunt-Grannie in Ealing. This book, written by Mrs. Molesworth in 1881, had belonged to Madge; it is the tale of an irritatingly precocious four-year-old’s travels abroad with his family and how he is lost, found and restored to them. Mrs. Molesworth’s children’s books were popular during Agatha’s childhood and she acquired them as soon as they were published: “Christmas Tree Land”, for instance, in 1897, and “The Magic Nuts” in 1898. At this time, too, Edith Nesbit was writing marvelous fantasies, all of which Agatha read: “The Story of the Treasure Seekers”, which came out in 1899, when she was nine, “The Phoenix and the Carpet” of 1903 and “The Railway Children” of 1906.

    “There was also the literature Clara had enjoyed as a child, exciting, simply written, illustrated from New York, and the volumes she had been given later, like Louisa M. Alcott’s unfussy, family-centered “Little Women”, which appeared when Clara was fifteen, and “Little Men”, which came out three years afterwards. Some…books had also come from America, including a series of startling thrillers: “Mr. Barnes of New York” (first chapter entitled ‘A Vampire Brood’); “Cynthia Wakeman’s Money”; “The Masked Venus”; and “Mr. Potter of Texas” (Chapter One, ‘The Deserted Hotel’: ‘Sir, I have something to tell you!’ – ‘My heavens! Is there a woman – an Englishwoman – in this accursed place tonight?’).

    “An increasingly wide range of literature became available for children at the end of the eighteen-nineties and in the early nineteen-hundreds. For small children there ingenious ‘pop-up’ books…and vividly illustrated stories, like “Punch and Judy”, but until Beatrix Potter began to produce short books of simply worded tale with pretty drawings (“The Tale of Benjamin Bunny” appeared in 1904) there was little that children aged from four to seven could easily read for themselves. For older children, however, literature brightened up considerably, the work of Edith Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett, for example, being perfectly suited to someone of Agatha’s age and circumstances. The language is exact, the sentences uncluttered, and the ideas – missing fortunes from India, tyrannical schoolmistresses, adventurous children, secret gardens, magical cities, juggling with time – just the right mixture of the fantastic and the familiar. Agatha could look up strange words and puzzling references; the Millers house was well furnished with encyclopedias, atlases and dictionaries. These late-Victorian and early-Edwardian children’s books were, too, full of complex and extraordinary fantasy, reflecting the hidden themes of ‘real life’ – quests, adventures, transformations, the wish to make order out of chaos or to obtain justice, the curious effects of money, death and love. Agatha was brought up on such reveries – the weird sketches and mad verse of Edward Lear and the remarkable worlds created by Lewis Carroll (Frederick had brought “Through the Looking Glass” in 1885, when Madge was six), not just those explored by Alice, but also the more baffling, yet perfectly comfortable territory of “Sylvie and Bruno”. Like dreaming, reading mirrored and assuaged a child’s subconscious turmoil (ibid)”.

    What makes those passages all the more remarkable is just how well it turns Rowling and Christie into near identical twins removed merely by differing years of birth on the timeline. Both seem to have read the same books, and all of those books go together to make up a neat catalogue of the same reading material that fed and inspired the work of the Inklings. It is, as they say, a lot of food for thought.

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