A Pocket Full of Rye

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A Pocket Full of Rye
A Pocket Full of Rye First Edition Cover 1953.jpg
First UK edition
Author Agatha Christie
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Collins Crime Club
Publication date
9 November 1953
Media typePrint (hard~ & paperback)
Pages192
Preceded by After the Funeral  
Followed by Destination Unknown  

A Pocket Full of Rye is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 9 November 1953, [1] and in the US by Dodd, Mead & Co. the following year. [2] [3] The UK edition retailed at ten shillings and sixpence (10/6) [1] and the US edition at $2.75. [3] The book features her detective Miss Marple.

Contents

Like several of Christie's novels (e.g., Hickory Dickory Dock and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe ) the title and substantial parts of the plot reference a nursery rhyme, in this case "Sing a Song of Sixpence". Miss Marple travels to the Fortescue home to offer information on the maid, Gladys Martin. She works with Inspector Neele until the mysteries are revealed.

Two reviewers at the time of publication felt that "the hidden mechanism of the plot is ingenious at the expense of probability" [4] and that the novel was "Not quite so stunning as some of Mrs Christie's criminal assaults upon her readers". [5] Christie's overall high quality in writing detective novels led one to say "they ought to make her a Dame". [5] Writing later, another reviewer felt that the characters included an "exceptionally nasty family of suspects" in what was "Still, a good, sour read." [6]

Plot summary

When London businessman Rex Fortescue dies after drinking his morning tea, Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Neele spearheads the investigation. An autopsy reveals the cause of death was poisoning by taxine, a toxic alkaloid obtained from the yew tree, and that Fortescue ingested it with his breakfast, while a search of his clothing reveals a quantity of rye in his jacket pocket.

Rex's wife Adele is the main suspect in the murder. Son Lancelot and his wife Pat are travelling from Kenya to London, at the invitation of his father, according to Lance; at Paris, he wires that he will be home next day, and police meet him at the airport. The day Lance arrives at Yewtree Lodge, leaving his wife in London, Adele dies of cyanide in her tea, and a few hours later the maid Gladys Martin is found strangled in the yard, with a clothes peg put on her nose.

Inspector Neele is working full-time with the aid of Sergeant Hay on these murders, interviewing all at the office and in the home. The older son, Percival, tells the Inspector that his father was erratic and ruining the business. After the story of the three murders is in the newspapers, Miss Marple arrives at Yewtree Lodge to shed light on Gladys Martin, who learned serving and cleaning at Miss Marple's home. Miss Ramsbottom, Rex's sister-in-law, invites her to stay. Inspector Neele agrees to work with Miss Marple, seeing what she can add. Neele learns that the taxine was ingested in marmalade, with a new jar put out at breakfast used by Rex alone; that jar had been tossed in the yard and found by police. When Miss Marple and Inspector Neele discuss the case, she asks him if he has asked about blackbirds, having seen the pattern of the old children's rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence." When he does ask, he learns of dead blackbirds on Rex's desk at home, a pie whose contents were removed and replaced with dead blackbirds, and from Lance, of the Blackbird Mine in east Africa.

The Blackbird Mine was found by a Mr MacKenzie and suspected of containing gold. Rex Fortescue investigated the land after investing capital in it, then left MacKenzie there to die, returning alone and owning the land that he felt was of no value. Mrs MacKenzie had subsequently blamed Rex for her husband's death, promising to teach her children to avenge their father. Both the Inspector and Miss Marple suspect that the daughter is in the household under another name, as the son died in the war. The Inspector suspects Mary Dove, the housekeeper, and tells her so; later, Jennifer Fortescue, wife of Percy, tells Miss Marple that she was the MacKenzies' daughter, and the Inspector confirms it. Jennifer put out the dead blackbirds near Rex to remind him of his past offence; Miss Marple realizes this gave the theme to the murderer. Dove immediately blackmails Jennifer; Inspector Neele says if Dove pays the money back, he will not charge her.

Miss Marple explains to Inspector Neele who killed Rex Fortescue: Gladys, who put the poison in the marmalade believing it was a truth drug, and the rye in his pocket, at the direction of her boyfriend, Albert Evans. The unattractive Gladys was very easy to persuade to assist him, never questioning his motives and flattered by his attentions. Miss Marple explains that Albert Evans is really Lance Fortescue, who wants the deed to the Blackbird Mine, as uranium has been found there. He arranged the murder of his father to stop the loss of cash and to deal only with his brother. He murdered his stepmother because she would inherit a large amount of money, but only if she lived thirty days after her husband, and he killed Gladys so she would not talk, leaving the clothes pin to match the line in the rhyme.

When Miss Marple returns home, a letter from Gladys waylaid in the post awaits her. She explains all she did and begs Miss Marple's help, as she does not know what to do, and encloses a photo of her and her Albert – clearly Lance Fortescue. Inspector Neele's case will be very strong.

Characters

Literary significance and reception

Philip John Stead in The Times Literary Supplement , 4 December 1953 wrote that "Miss Christie's novel belongs to the comfortable branch of detective fiction; it never harrows its readers by realistic presentation of violence or emotion or by making exorbitant demands on their interest in the characters. Crime is a convention, pursuit an intellectual exercise, and it is as if the murderer of the odious financier did but poison in jest. The characters are lightly and deftly sketched and an antiseptic breeze of humour prevails. It is a pleasure to read an author so nicely conscious of the limitations of what she is attempting." He concluded, "Miss Christie has a reputation for playing fair with the reader who likes to assume detective responsibility, and also for being one too many for him. In the present case it may be felt that the hidden mechanism of the plot is ingenious at the expense of probability, but the tale is told with such confidence that (like murder itself, in this pastoral atmosphere) it does not matter very much." [4]

Maurice Richardson in The Observer (15 November 1953) posited, "Not quite so stunning as some of Mrs Christie's criminal assaults upon her readers; the soufflé rises all right, but the red herrings aren't quite nifty enough. But how well she nearly always writes, the dear decadent old death-trafficker; they ought to make her a Dame or a D. Litt." [5]

Robert Barnard said of the characters that "Super-stockbrokerbelt setting, and quite exceptionally nasty family of suspects. (Christie usually prefers to keep most of her characters at least potentially sympathetic as well as potential murderers, but here they are only the latter)." He felt that the plot was "Something of a re-run of Hercule Poirot's Christmas (loathsome father, goody-goody son, ne'er-do-well son, gold-digger wife, etc.), but without its tight construction and ingenuity. And the rhyme is an irrelevancy." His bottom line on this novel was that "Still, a good, sour read." [6]

The poison

The aril, the fleshy part of the berry, is the only part of the yew that is non-toxic. The seeds inside the berry contain a high concentration of taxine and are poisonous if chewed. [7] Pets that chew on yew branches or leaves have become ill. [8] One of the characters in the novel remarks that taxine has "no medical uses," which was correct at the time. In 1963, Taxol, which is a member of the taxine family, was found to be one of the most potent and effective chemotherapy drugs for the treatment of solid tumours.

Film, TV, radio or theatrical adaptations

In 1983, the novel was adapted into the Russian-language film Secret of the Blackbirds and starred Estonian actress Ita Ever as Miss Marple. [9]

A Pocket Full of Rye was the fourth transmitted story in the BBC series of Miss Marple adaptations, which starred Joan Hickson as the elderly sleuth. It was first broadcast in two parts on 7 & 8 March 1985. Despite remaining faithful to the novel, apart from giving the title as "A Pocketful of Rye", the characters of Mrs MacKenzie, Gerald Wright and Elaine Fortescue did not make an appearance. In the end, the murderer dies in a car crash, while there is no such thing in the novel.

Michael Bakewell's 90-minute adaptation for BBC radio was first broadcast in 1995; it starred June Whitfield as Miss Marple. [10]

The novel was adapted for the fourth series of the British television series Agatha Christie's Marple broadcast on ITV on 6 September 2009, starring Julia McKenzie as the title character. In comparison with the other episodes, this adaptation was surprisingly faithful, having only minor changes.

Publication history

The novel was first serialised, heavily abridged, in the UK in the Daily Express starting on Monday 28 September, running for fourteen instalments until Tuesday 13 October 1953. [11]

The novel was first serialised in the US in the Chicago Tribune in forty-two parts from Monday, 11 January to Saturday, 27 February 1954. [12]

Related Research Articles

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<i>Sleeping Murder</i> 1976 Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie

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<i>The Mirror Crackd from Side to Side</i> 1962 Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, a novel by Agatha Christie, was published in the UK in 1962 and a year later in the US under the title The Mirror Crack'd. The story features amateur detective Miss Marple solving a mystery in St. Mary Mead.

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<i>The Murder at the Vicarage</i> 1930 Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie

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<i>Why Didnt They Ask Evans?</i> 1934 detective novel by Agatha Christie

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club in September 1934 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1935 under the title of The Boomerang Clue. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.

<i>The Body in the Library</i> 1942 Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in February 1942 and in UK by the Collins Crime Club in May of the same year. The US edition retailed at $2.00 and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6). The novel features her fictional amateur detective, Miss Marple.

<i>A Murder Is Announced</i> 1950 novel by Agatha Christie

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<i>They Do It with Mirrors</i> 1952 Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie

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<i>The Pale Horse</i> 1961 novel by Agatha Christie

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<i>Murder, She Said</i> 1961 British film

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Murder Most Foul is the third of four Miss Marple films made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Loosely based on the 1952 novel Mrs McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie, it stars Margaret Rutherford as Miss Jane Marple, Charles Tingwell as Inspector Craddock, and Stringer Davis as Mr Stringer. The story is ostensibly based on Christie's novel, but notably changes the action and the characters. Hercule Poirot is replaced by Miss Marple and most of the other characters are not in the novel.

<i>The Thirteen Problems</i>

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<i>Three Blind Mice and Other Stories</i>

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References

  1. 1 2 Peers, Chris; Spurrier, Ralph; Sturgeon, Jamie (March 1999), Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (2nd ed.), Dragonby Press, p. 15.
  2. Cooper, John; Pyke, BA (1994), Detective Fiction – the collector's guide (2nd ed.), Scholar Press, pp. 82, 87, ISBN   0-85967-991-8 .
  3. 1 2 "American Tribute to Agatha Christie".
  4. 1 2 Stead, Philip John (4 December 1953). "Review". The Times Literary Supplement. p. 773.
  5. 1 2 3 Richardson, Maurice (15 November 1953). "Review". The Observer. p. 10.
  6. 1 2 Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 203. ISBN   0-00-637474-3.
  7. Robertson, John (14 February 2013). "The poison garden" . Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  8. Cope, R.B. (1 September 2005). "'Toxicology Brief: The dangers of yew ingestion". Veterinary Medicine.
  9. "A Pocket Full of Rye". agathachristie.com. Retrieved 3 January 2018.
  10. "BBC Radio 4 Extra - Miss Marple, A Pocket Full of Rye".
  11. Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD3 and NPL LON MLD3.
  12. "A Pocket Full of Rye, Instalment IV". Chicago Tribune. 14 January 1954. pp. 39–40. Retrieved 28 May 2015.