Bewilderment, anxiety and distrust ensue at Yewtree Lodge when a businessman with a less-than-likable personality is brutally poisoned while at work, and when this mystery is found to reference events from the past, the confusion skyrockets. Aditi and Debraath discuss Revenge, Justice, Familial Conflict and Fragility of Trust – four profound themes at the heart of A Pocket Full of Rye – along with some fun Easter eggs hidden in the book, in the final episode that wraps up the Agatha Christie miniseries!
Aditi: Hey school! Journsplit is back with another episode! This is the third and last part of our miniseries on Agatha Christie. If you haven’t heard the previous episodes, you can listen to them on our website. Today, we’ll be talking about another one of the Queen of Crime’s most riveting works starring Ms Marple – A Pocket Full of Rye!
Debraath: Before we talk about the book, here are some fascinating facts about our favourite geriatric sleuth, Ms Marple! Miss Marple made her first appearance in Murder at the Vicarage first published in 1930, but she did not appear in another full length novel until The Body in the Library which was published 12 years later in 1942.
Aditi: Did you know, unlike the Hercule Poirot series of books, Christie had absolutely no intention of continuing Ms Marple books for the rest of her life? However, she eventually did, and Ms Marple has grown to be the endearing quirky detective that we know today!
Debraath: Wow! That is interesting, and this novel certainly is too! Like many of Christie’s books which use nursery rhymes as a scaffolding, the title of this book and its plot reference a well-known nursery rhyme – Sing a Song of Sixpence. Middle class businessman Rex Fortescue is found lying limp and lifeless after his afternoon tea, shocking those close to him as well as the police.
Aditi: That’s only the beginning! What’s more shocking is that one murder spirals into two, and then three, as the prime suspect, Rex’s wife Adele Fortescue and the parlour maid, Gladys Martin are also brutally killed, and the crime scenes have unmistakeable references to the titular nursery rhyme.
Debraath: Yes! Later in the story, we can clearly see that Rex Fortescue had not had a very pleasant history with blackbirds, which the rhyme alludes to a number of times. The way Christie strung together the two almost unrelated stories of Rex’s death and his time in Blackbird mine and weaved them into one seamless and enjoyable plot is certainly notable.
Aditi: That’s right! Revenge, which is a common motive in many of Christie’s works like And Then There Were None, took a backseat in this story as one of the biggest red herrings in the plot when Jennifer (whose identity as the daughter of Rex’s dead colleague was uncovered by Miss Marple) admitted to placing the dead blackbirds near Rex to remind him of the devastation that he had caused in her family by leaving her father to die in the forests of Africa.
Debraath: Other than Revenge, the themes of Justice and Familial Conflict are well fleshed out as well. The theme of Justice is on the forefront of many of Christie’s books which involve detectives resolving many sinister and intricate crimes. A very interesting facet in this theme of Justice that Christie frequently brings up is that Justice belongs to everyone, not just the well off.
Aditi: I didn’t realise that, but you’re right! Her books emphasise how justice must be served, regardless of who the victims are and what backgrounds they come from. Miss Marple is pulled into this case because she is connected to Gladys, a parlor maid from a lower socio-economic background. Miss Marple strongly believes that her murder deserves as much attention as the murder of a wealthy business executive. Indeed, this is a theme that is at the forefront of many of Christie’s works: Justice is not just for those who are privileged, but for everyone. Similar to APFOR, in ATTWN, the judge believes that he is doing the right thing by punishing those who escaped their sentences. Gladys’ naivety allowed for Lance’s plan to take place as he wanted it to, and this was alluded to in the novel a few times.
Debraath: Even Ms Marple felt regret when she found Gladys’ note only after she passed away, reiterating the point that Christie believed justice should be served to all. Another theme in the book is one of Conflict. Once again, this theme is not special to APFOR and is also a relatively common theme in her books.
Aditi: In APFOR, this conflict occurs within a family. The bitter rivalry between Percival and Lance, Rex’s sons, for their inheritance is shown vividly and is an issue many of us have seen on the screen. Families break down and friendships turn sour just for money!
Debraath: This theme of Conflict is indeed captured in many of Christie’s other books. In Go Back For Murder, secrets from 16 years ago are revealed when a woman reinvestigates a murder that framed someone innocent and put them in jail. This slowly takes a toll on her relationship with the other people who were in the house when the murder occured, as one of them was the true murderer who orchestrated such a plan.
Aditi: Adding on, in Death On The Nile, a jealous woman commits murders to steal her best friend’s fiancé. Even in And Then There Were None, where the morally convoluted Vera, who killed her charge in the name of love only to be scorned later, is brought to light. Indeed, many of her stories revolve around how easily relationships can break down due to the inherent fragility of trust.
Debraath: You bring up some rather interesting points! Throughout the novel, we can practically visualise the characters in real life. As in most of Christie’s novels, although the setting is sketched and the finer details are left to our imaginations, the characterisation is very strong. All necessary details are supplied for the reader through descriptions of how they dress and everyday actions. Taking Ms Marple as an example, Christie describes her as “dithery,” and we can clearly see that she is fickle, unsure and only subtly suggests her opinions throughout the novel.
Aditi: Hmm, that is true, but on closer reading we realise that this “dithery” behavior, however, is more to camouflage her curious sleuthing than anything else. In reality, every step that Miss Marple takes is very calculated and she takes in just about everything that’s around her.
Debraath: That’s right! To end off, let’s look at yet another theme that is subtly brought up in the novel. From Miss Marple, we become more aware of the benefits of the wisdom that comes with age. Initially, Inspector Neele does not think much of Miss Marple. He also does not see the significance of the pocket full of rye, the clothes pin on Gladys’ nose, or the fact that Adele was poisoned while eating scones with honey. Yet, when Miss Marple makes the connection between the nursery rhyme and the series of crimes, many pieces of the seemingly random puzzle fall into place, and both Neele and the readers realise that old is most definitely gold!
Aditi: Indeed! That’s all we have for a pocket full of rye! This episode wraps up our miniseries on Agatha Christie’s works. Hope you enjoyed this episode and the series!
Rei: Look out for our next episode on Moana, which will be a collaboration with Choir!