Monday, April 5, 2021

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie (1953)

Major characters:

The Fortescues:
  • Rex Fortescue, the victim
  • Adele Fortescue, Rex's second wife; a young gold-digger
  • Percival "Val" Fortescue, Rex's brother; and his wife Jennifer
  • Lancelot Fortescue, Rex's brother in East Africa; and his wife Pat
  • Elaine Fortescue, Rex's daughter by first wife
  • "Aunt Effie" Ramsbottom, Rex's sister-in-law
  • Mary Dove, the ladder-climbing housekeeper
  • Gladys Martin, parlourmaid
  • Vivian Dubois, Adele's man-on-the-side
  • Miss Irene Grosvenor, Rex's elegant secretary
  • Miss Griffith, Rex's head typist
  • Detective Inspector Neele
  • Miss Jane Marple

Synopsis: Rex Fortescue is in his office at Consolidated Investments when elegant secretary Miss Irene Grosvenor brings him his tea. Shortly after, he collapses and dies from a poison. Preliminary signs point to Taxine as the poison, made from Yew tree berries. Detective Inspector Neele is called in right away.

D. I. Neele goes to the Fortescue home, Yewtree Lodge, where he not only finds plenty of yew trees on the property, but a young, attractive ladder-climbing housekeeper Mary Dove, who is more than ready to divulge all the family drama. It looks like Rex's sexy young trophy wife, Adele Fortescue, had it in for him for his money and her new flame, Vivian Dubois.

Rex's family consists of two brothers: Percival "Val" Fortescue (wife: Jennifer) who runs the day-to-day operations of Consolidated Investments, and Lancelot "Lance" (wife: Pat) - long estranged and living in Africa. Rex has a daughter, Elaine Fortescue, from his first marriage; and a sister-in-law, Aunt Effie Ramsbottom.

No sooner has the dust settled from Rex's death when Adele is found poisoned as well. Soon after that, parlourmaid Gladys Martin is found strangled in the yard.

Miss Jane Marple had previously employed Gladys, and hearing of her death, arrives to offer assistance. She discovers the three deaths are related by the old nursery rhyme about blackbirds in a pie.

Review: I was a good 100 pages in before I realized that Miss Marple had yet to be mentioned, and St. Mary Mead was not in the picture at all. I looked at the title of my anthology, Miss Marple Meets Murder, and figured she had to be in there somewhere.

The character I enjoyed most was housekeeper Mary Dove. She is so efficient in everything, that I would be pleased to have her running my own household. She would likely even meet with Nero Wolfe's approval if he would stoop to having a female on staff.

The tying of murders to lines in the nursery rhyme builds tension as you wonder who is going to get it next. Adele looks like the prime suspect but gets off the hook when she becomes a victim as well. We have Rex (victim 1), Adele (victim 2), and Gladys (victim 3). The whole thing unravels when Miss Marple figures out the sequence is wrong, and Gladys is really victim #2, which rules out the kill-in-sequence theory.

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