pocket rye

Looks like we’ve got a cereal killer…

“It was Miss Somers’s turn to make the tea.”

Sitting down with an Agatha Christie, for me, is like coming back to a warm, comfortable home that you know and love. Granted, it’s a home where you may at any point be shot, stabbed, strangled or poisoned, but it’s home nonetheless.

This one involves that shrewd old woman Miss Marple in another Christie that takes its name from a nursery rhyme (see also; Hickory Dickory Dock, And Then There Were None and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe), giving the original poem a neat, dark twist. I was dubious with this one as it seemed very much like she’d chosen the title and then tried to fit a plot haphazardly around it. I shouldn’t have doubted Christie, however. She is every inch as clever as Marple.

Rex Fortescue is poisoned on the fifth page and the action begins immediately. Suffering from a fit and demanding to know what the secretary has put in his tea, he is rushed to hospital where he dies. Curiously, there appears to be no trace of poison in his mug, but there is some cereal in his pocket. Rye. A literal pocket full of rye.

And things only get weirder from there.

The news reaches the odious Fortescue family, including Rex’s two sons (one business-minded, one estranged) and their wives, his outdoorsy daughter, Rex’s younger second wife Adele, his sister-in-law “Aunt Effie” and the various staff that make up the team of servants at Yewtree Lodge. Inspector Neele is put on the case and begins the usual questions. And that’s when the second murder drops.

When a third body is found, Miss Marple slides her way into their lives to try and piece it all together and work out who is killing to the pattern of a children’s nursery rhyme. It seems that there was some difficult business with some blackbirds…

Again, I was flummoxed by the result. It appears so easy that even though you’re all set to peg it on so-and-so, you know that Christie is too smart to let it be the case. The red herrings and clues are dropped so neatly. I began to see that certain things would be relevant, but could never quite understand how they fitted in.

An instant favourite in Christie’s catalogue. Miss Marple doesn’t get much page time but the intelligent Inspector Neele makes an interesting detective. A neat, quick read where the murderer is nicely hidden as the rumours and clues go round and round in circles. Excellent stuff.

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