A Pocket Full of Rye
is a work of detective fiction by famed British author Agatha Christie. The novel was first published in the United Kingdom in 1953 and the following year in the United States. The main character is Miss Marple, an exceptional detective who appears in many of Christie’s other novels. Moreover, the title of the novel follows another repetitive theme of many of Christie’s novels: It is based on a children’s nursery rhyme
. Specifically, the phrase “a pocket full of rye” comes from “Sing a Song of Sixpence.” The story centers on Miss Marple as she assists in investigating the murder of Rex Fortescue, a London businessman.
Rex Fortescue, a prominent London businessman, is found dead after drinking his morning tea at Yewtree Lodge, the family home. One of the servants, Gladys Martin, is being questioned. Gladys learned her trade in the employment of Miss Marple. Inspector Neele, a Scotland Yard detective, is in charge of the investigation, but when Miss Marple arrives at the Fortescue home as a character witness for Gladys, she is invited to stay by Rex’s sister-in-law, Miss Ramsbottom. Later, Inspector Neele agrees to work with Miss Marple. The facts they have to go on are as follows: Rex’s cause of death is poisoning by taxine (a substance derived from yew trees); Rex died during breakfast; a large amount of rye was found in his pocket.
Rex’s son, Lancelot, arrives at Yewtree Lodge, supposedly at the invitation of his father. After he arrives, his stepmother, Adele, who is the main suspect in Rex’s death, dies from cyanide poisoning. Gladys is found later, having been strangled (a clothespin is found on her nose). The inspectors learn that the taxine was ingested via marmalade, and later find a fresh jar of marmalade thrown out in the yard. Miss Marple then asks Inspector Neele if he has queried the suspects about blackbirds. The addition of the blackbird motif hints at the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence.” When Inspector Neele follows Miss Marple’s lead, he finds that dead blackbirds have been left on the property, a pie stuffed with dead blackbirds was found, and that the name of Rex’s mine in east Africa is the Blackbird Mine.
As with Christie’s other novels, the plot soon thickens after the nursery rhyme connection. It turns out that Rex found the land on which the mine resides with a Mr. MacKenzie. Rex returned home, however, leaving MacKenzie to die. This entitled Rex to full ownership of the land, though he thought it was worthless. Mackenzie’s wife taught her children to seek revenge on Rex. After more probing, Miss Marple and Inspector Neele discover that MacKenzie’s daughter is Jennifer Fortescue, the wife of Rex’s older son, Percival. Jennifer placed the dead blackbirds on Rex’s desk to remind him of his past crime but was blackmailed by the maid, Mary Dove, for money. With this revelation, Mary Dove is forced to pay back the money to Jennifer.
Miss Marple then deduces that the killer was Gladys. Gladys was being manipulated by her boyfriend, Albert Evans. She thought the drug she put in the marmalade was a truth serum. Miss Marple later ascertains that Albert is actually Lancelot. Lance killed his father to gain his fortune and stop the losses they were incurring from his father’s poor management (he’d also discovered uranium in the mine). He also killed his stepmother so that she couldn’t inherit any of his father’s money in the event of his death. Gladys was then killed so that she wouldn’t expose him. When Miss Marple returns home, she finds a letter from Gladys awaiting her in the mail. In it, Gladys admits her involvement and asks for help. Miss Marple feels guilty that she didn’t find the letter in time.
Agatha Christie is a popular crime fiction writer. She was born in 1890 and died in 1976. She is known for penning a large number of detective novels, as well as short stories, about the investigative work of her two famous detectives: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote romance novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott. Many publications list Christie as the best-selling novelist of all time. Others rank the success of her books as third only to Shakespeare and the Bible. In 1971, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.