Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Pocket Full of Rye

Miss Lemon has just finished reading a delightfully chilling take on the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme, "Sing a Song of Sixpence." She's sure you remember how it goes:
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Now wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
In Agatha Christie's version, titled A Pocket Full of Rye and published in 1953, the dainty dish that's set before the king is a cup of poisoned tea. The king, in this case, is the financier Rex (she's sure the allusion won't escape you) Fortescue, and the poison is taxine, the byproduct of the leaves and berries of the yew tree.

As every bookish child knows, more verses follow the two quoted above, and Mrs. Christie, true to form, makes sure the trail of murder falls right in step with the rhyme, if not reason, of Mother Goose.

A Pocket Full of Rye is -- in Miss Lemon's estimation -- a neat and clever little mystery, made all the more intriguing by the rare appearance of Miss Marple outside the gates of St. Mary Mead. A personal involvement with the maid "hanging up the clothes" draws Miss Marple to Yewtree Lodge, trailing with her a fantastic string of village parallels which she uses to help Inspector Neele tie up this puzzling case.

Miss Lemon couldn't think of a cosier way to pass a rainy Sunday afternoon than with A Pocket Full of Rye.

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