Most of Christie's great novels were written in the 1930s and 1940s. Although she could still create a stunner when she wished, with A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED a case in point, by the 1950s Christie favored a less complicated approach, preferring to write novels that might be described as creamy confections for a very civilized high tea. A POCKET FULL OF RYE is perhaps the perfect example. Like most Christie novels, the plot is extremely contrived--but in this instance she makes no effort to conceal the contrivance; it is a shell game, pure and simple and without pretension, a game undertaken for the pleasure of it. And when Christie sets out to write a novel for the pure fun of it, there is always a great deal of fun to be had. This will never rank among her greatest works, but fans will devour it in a single sitting and feel as satisified as if they had just enjoyed a blow-out of cream buns. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The first chapter described the death of Rex Fortescue in great detail, although those details curtail none of the man's suffering but his assistants worries: whether their boss is having a sudden attack of epilepsy, drunk, or simply dying. I find this chapter very funny - I have a very strange sense of humour, so sue me - and sets the motion for the proceeding chapters when more of the rhyme came into fulfilment: the dead queen in the parlour, the maid with a clothespin on her nose to make up for the 'bird came and nipped her nose' and even the pie that contained dead blackbirds, which of course, accounts for the first part of the rhyme.
Ms Marple commented these things in the book as horribly childish, and she set out to seek the murderer who not only killed from afar but also killed merely out of covering his/her own sad behind. Another brilliant novel from the Dame.
Rex Fortescue was a very rich and quite unpleasant man. He ran his family and his business with an iron fist. One morning his very efficient secretary took in his morning tea and found him dying. While investigating his death the police were met with one puzzle after another, what killed Mr. Fortescue?, how was it administered? and why did he have a pocket full of rye grain? As they were beginning to get some answers another murder occurred and then yet another each bringing more confusion to the scene.
Jane Marple arrives to the house and begins to sort through the tangle of clues to steer the police in the right direction.
This story may seem quite familiar. The Fortescue family is Christie's standard - domineering, wealthy father who keeps most of his family trapped in the family home, under his control. An errant "black sheep" child returns just as the murders begin and there are many family secrets.
Although the story is somewhat formulistic it is still a well told tale and a fairly laid out puzzle. All the clues are there for the reader to use to try to solve the mystery before the last chapter. The only drawbacks for Miss Marple fans are that Miss Marple doesn't arrive nearly half way through the book and that it is not set in St. Mary Mead.