Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie and the history of the finger


If you think writing a novel is challenging, try coming up with a title. Especially one with a finger in it.

The title is critically important to a book, even more than the cover.  I often agonize over my decision. Many years ago, the publisher of my first book changed its title.

My new book, Dark Ride Deception, focuses on the theft of mind-bending technology for theme park dark rides (indoor attractions), but it includes the discovery of a severed finger. It’s not what the story is about. It’s just clue, a loose finger.  But I became enamored with using that in the title, and I remembered an Agatha Christie novel, The Moving Finger.

Christie wasn’t referring to an unattached digit like the one in my book. In fact, she took the title from the translation of Omar Khayyam verse:

“The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

The moving finger is vaguely referenced in her book, including a clue that anonymous threatening letters were typed by someone using one finger.

Immediately I thought about titling my book, The Unmoving Finger. That’s obviously the state of the finger in my book, and it would be an homage to that most famous mystery writer. But how many people would see the connection? The Moving Finger was published in 1942 and was not one of Christie’s most well-known works.

I thought my literary allusion might be wasted, so I aimed for something slightly less sophisticated. Getting the Finger was my first idea. Then I thought I could attract browsers’ attention even better with Giving the Finger.

References such as—to use the vernacular—flipping the bird, stretch farther back than Christie, even farther back than Omar Khayyam. According to Wikipedia, the middle finger gesture dates to ancient Greece and Rome. Also, there’s a story, probably apocryphal, that flipping the bird came into use at Battle of Agincourt between the British and French in 1415. The French supposedly planned to cut off the middle fingers of British archers so they couldn’t shoot.  When it didn’t happen, the British flipped their middle fingers in contempt.

Regardless of its occasionally obscene history, the finger is a popular word in mystery titles, often referring to, or pointing out, someone’s guilt. That was another of my great title ideas: Finger of Guilt. Author Paul Grossman beat me to it with his 2012 short story. The Amazon description of his Finger of Guilt says that star investigator Hans Fraksa claims the authorities have caught “Kinderfresser, the vicious child eater of Berlin.”

The finger is popular in titles for many, possibly less gruesome mystery/crime stories, including:

—  Finger Lickin’ Fifteen (2009) by Janet Evanovich
 — Finger Prints (2009) by Barbara Delinski
 — Fingerprint (2011) by Patricia Wentworth
— The Three Fingered Hand (2013) by Edda Brigitte Walsleben
— Fingered For Murder (2013) by Rodney Wilson, and
— The Finger: A Novel of Love & Amputation (2014) by David L. Robbins.

In addition to the publishing world, Hollywood keeps its finger on the pulse of its customers, and thus for decades a variety of crime and mystery films have used digital nomenclature in titles. Among the best known is Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Five Fingers (1952). Based on a true story, James Mason stars as a British spy working for the Nazis and Michael Rennie as a British agent on his trail. Unrelated to the Mankiewicz film, Laurence Fishburne starred in a 2006 thriller called Five Fingers. In addition, a 1959 television series used the same name.

I ran my finger down a long list of similarly-titled films as I struggled to decide what to call my book. A sampling:

— The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) This spooky mystery/horror film takes place in an isolated Italian manor house and stars Robert Alda and Peter Lorre. Based on the trailer, the entire film happens at night.
— Fingers (1978) Harvey Keitel plays Jimmy “Fingers” Angelelli, a talented pianist who is also a part-time collector for his mob-connected father.
— Finger Man (1955) Frank Lovejoy goes undercover to finger a mobster.
— Finger of Guilt (1956) Richard Basehart, a happily married film executive, is stalked by a woman he says he does not know.
— Five Fingers of Death (1972) In the poster for this martial arts movie, a guy has hooked fingers that look like claws.

Probably the most famous movie of the batch was the 1964 film that forever cemented James Bond in the hearts of viewers: Goldfinger.

Finally, after research and rumination, I decided that, because it tells what the book is actually about, Dark Ride Deception would be my best title. Fingers crossed. 

Parting the gauzy curtain of misdirection


Murder mysteries

What is a mystery novel without a puzzle? Guest writer Daniella Bernett explores some of the elements that make up the puzzle.  Bernett’s second mystery in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon series, Deadly Legacy, debuts tomorrow, Sept.24, from Black Opal Books. 

Why is the question that my mind whispers when I dip into a deliciously intriguing mystery. For me, it’s always been about the puzzle. A desire to find out how and why a crime was conceived and executed. To figure out who the murderer is before the sleuth.

deadly-legacy-daniella-beDoes it sound cold-blooded and calculating? Perhaps it is. But I rather like to view it as a diverting challenge. I have to be sharp because the author has deliberately set me off on the wrong path. The only way to uncover the right clues that will reveal the truth is to part the gauzy curtain of misdirection. The author is not completely cruel, though. He or she always leaves a strand or two dangling in the wind. It is the reader’s job to grasp it quickly before it drifts away.

Another thing that helps the reader tremendously on this quest for answers is understanding human nature and all its foibles. In my opinion, Agatha Christie was the master at peeling back the layers of the psyche to reveal greed, jealousy and pure, naked evil. Knowledge is power. With knowledge, the reader can navigate the twists and turns of the tale to see justice prevail, as it always must. Continue Reading →

Do you hate f***ing profanity in mystery novels?


A thug the size of an NFL lineman grabs Sam Shamus around the neck and throws him down the stairs. The bad guy follows him, stomps on his face and tells him he’s a low-life private dick and if he ever shows up again he’ll get a real beating.

Somehow Sam manages to get to his feet. He glares at the crook and says, “Pardon me sir, but I object to the way you’re characterizing my profession. And I ask that you refrain from inflicting further physical indignities, you hooligan.”Profanity-balloon

That’s what Sam says, anyway. Your average detective-novel hero might use different words.

Sam’s situation—or a version of it—went through my mind when I started writing mystery short stories and later, my first mystery novel. Should I use profanity? My initial answer: no. We’re slammed with the f-word so often in crime movies that profanity loses its punch. But the more I wrote, and the more I thought about it, studiously avoiding profanity seemed unrealistic. What the hell was I to do?

Profanity in literature, a fascinating topic—particularly in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre—varies from author to author. But before we get into that, a few words about four-letter words. While I eventually decided in favor of what’s delicately called swear words in my fiction, I’m still a journalist when I’m writing articles online. My inner AP Stylebook doesn’t permit me to use words you won’t find in your daily paper. Therefore I’m going to resort to f*** and s*** for two words everyone knows. Bear with me.

Not long ago, someone writing on an Amazon discussion page asked about bad language. She wrote: “I am Continue Reading →

%d bloggers like this: