A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

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Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 753 words.)