Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 623
A Pocket Full of Rye opens with the death of Rex Fortescue, a successful but not universally liked financier. Curiously, rye is discovered in one of his pockets. In addition, it was not his afternoon tea that poisoned him but something that he had eaten at breakfast that contained taxine, a derivative of yew. Before long, Gladys Martin, the parlor maid, has been strangled, and Rex’s attractive second wife, Adele, has received a dose of cyanide in her tea.
The police are baffled, both by the methods the murderer has chosen to employ and by the number of motives. Adding to the confusion is the sudden appearance of Lancelot Fortescue and his wife Pat. Years before, Lance had moved to Africa after his father had turned him out of the house for ostensibly forging a check. According to him, he and his father had made their peace, and he has come back to enter the family business, much to the dismay of the oldest son, Percival, who resides at Yewtree Lodge with his wife, Jennifer. All parties stand to gain from the death of Rex Fortescue. Consequently, there are nearly as many motives as there are suspects, and no one can adequately account for his or her time. Adding to the confusion are the rye in Rex’s pocket and a clothespin clipped to the nose of Gladys Martin.
Miss Marple enters the Fortescue home as a former employer of Gladys Martin. She wants to see the girl’s murderer found. Inspector Neele quickly finds that Miss Marple is a valuable asset and asks that she lend a hand in finding out information about the family. Miss Marple is aided in her endeavors by Miss Ramsbottom, Rex Fortescue’s eccentric sister-in-law from his first marriage. She likes Miss Marple because Marple is sensible, and she insists that Marple stay at Yewtree Lodge.
The continued presence of Miss Marple unnerves the household, with the exception of Miss Ramsbottom, but greatly aids Inspector Neele, who finds her observations invaluable. In addition, Miss Marple is the quintessential objective observer. She does not know anyone in the household except the late Gladys Martin and so is in a position to evaluate objectively the various members of the family.
Throughout the novel, the reader sees Christie employ her own powers of observation to bring the characters to life. As in most of her novels, the setting is sketched and the reader is left to fill in the fine details. With the characters, however, Christie takes great care to see that all necessary details are supplied for the reader. Facets of the characters are often revealed through dress and everyday actions.
This novel also serves to give the reader a fairly complete portrait of Jane Marple. Christie herself described her as “dithery,” and that she is. This behavior, however, is more camouflage than anything else. Miss Marple does indeed take in everything around her. Christie also uses this novel to show the benefits of age. Inspector Neele does not see the significance of the pocket full of rye, the clothespin on Glady’s nose, or the fact that Adele was poisoned while eating scones with honey. Yet when Miss Marple reminds him of the rhyme from Mother Goose, several pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
The overriding theme of this novel is that justice must be served. Miss Marple gets involved in the murders because of Gladys Martin, a not-very-bright parlor maid. It is definitely Miss Marple’s belief that her murder deserves as much attention as the murder of a wealthy business executive. It is a theme present in many of Christie’s works: Justice is not simply for those who are privileged, but for all.
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