The May prompt for the Read Christie 2021 Challenge is ‘a story featuring tea’. I would have had no idea which Christie novels fit that theme, but as ever the challenge hosts provided a list of suggestions and this one, A Pocket Full of Rye, turned out to be perfect.
First published in 1953, the novel opens with London businessman Rex Fortescue being served his morning tea in his office by his secretary. When Fortescue dies in hospital shortly afterwards and the cause of death is said to be taxine, a poison found in yew trees, the tea is naturally blamed. However, the autopsy suggests that the poisoning must have actually taken place earlier that morning, while Fortescue was eating breakfast at his home, Yew Tree Lodge. This widens the circle of potential suspects to include his wife, his three children and their spouses, and an assortment of servants. Inspector Neele is brought in to lead the investigation, but his only real clue is a handful of rye found in Fortescue’s pocket.
Neele believes he is close to identifying the culprit, but a second murder forces him to think again. It is only when Miss Marple arrives at Yew Tree Lodge, having read about the murders in the newspaper, that a connection is spotted with the popular children’s rhyme, “Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye”. Inspector Neele may be a clever man with a sharp mind, but it will take Miss Marple’s knowledge of Mother Goose, blackbirds and human nature to solve this particular mystery.
I usually seem to prefer Christie’s Poirot novels to her Miss Marple ones, but I really enjoyed this book; it’s one of my favourite Marples so far, along with A Murder is Announced. I loved the nursery rhyme element – although it’s maybe not all that relevant to the overall solving of the mystery, it does add some fun to the plot. I can’t say that I loved the characters, but as Neele himself describes them as “all very unpleasant people”, we’re obviously not supposed to – and the fact that they are so unpleasant means that there are plenty of suspects. For once, I did correctly identify who was behind the murders, but I think it was really just a lucky guess; I certainly didn’t work everything out and I needed Miss Marple to explain all the details for me. Sadly, though, we don’t spend a lot of time with her in this book. She doesn’t appear until almost halfway through and then we don’t see very much of her actually investigating the mystery…which makes it all the more impressive that she manages to solve it ahead of Inspector Neele!
I’m enjoying taking part in Read Christie this year. I’ve read five great books in the first five months and am looking forward to another one in June!