Book Review: A Pocket Full of Rye

A Pocket Full of Rye Cover

I hope everyone is doing well, now that the seasons have officially, instead of just in temperature alone, changed from spring or fall to summer or winter, depending on the hemisphere you live in.

As most of you know, I had gotten some books last week and I have covered each one by one until only one remains.

Today, I will be reviewing that last title, which is called A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie.

It is just another usual day at the office of Rex Fortescue, a successful businessman, or so he thinks, until he is poisoned.

Now, Inspector Neele, a detective for Scotland Yard, has been called into investigate a case that may seem cut and dry, but he may need outside help to piece together the confusing case that it actually is.

While I have liked a few of Agatha Christie’s other works, I did not like all of them, such as Crooked House, and I am not too sure about this one.

Fortunately, there were some things to like, so I do not need to jump right into what I hated.

I liked how the police were not portrayed as incompetent in this work.

In many titles to be found in the detective fiction genre, or its parent genre, crime fiction, the police come across as incompetent to the point where the readers are able to figure things out before police, if not the detective that takes the stage in the story.

Such examples can be seen in works featuring the well-known detectives Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, as well as many other works that have sprung up since the death of the writers who created said characters.

However, as nice as it can be to have idiotic police officers, so that the detective, or in the case of the stories featuring Arséne Lupin, criminal, can shine in the eyes of the reader, it can be rather boring when the police have to rely on a detective to solve everything for them.

Yes, Crooked House had police detectives that were not the idiots that we are used to seeing, but that book ended up being horrible because the culprit became way too obvious near the end, so I cannot really count that as a story where the police can stand on their own, like their counterparts can solve cases with their own resources.

Here, on the other the hand, Inspector Neele seemed to be fairly competent and a very interesting character to follow as he unravels various clues throughout the case.

I would expect no less from Agatha Christie, since she has earned the moniker of Queen of Crime.

Detective fiction would probably be much more interesting than it is if the police did not end up being as incompetent as they are portrayed.

Then again, as stated in a post by J.J. Hensley, a former police officer and Secret Service agent, on Elizabeth Spann Craig’s website, making competent police officers in fiction makes writing a crime fiction story that much harder to do, since the criminals must be smarter and the detectives that are the main stars cannot just walk onto the scene and take the spotlight like they usually do in detective fiction.

Still, Agatha Christie has shown that she could create a competent police officer, if she really needed to do so, and I would like to have given her a ton of praise, if she were alive today.

I also liked how it was shown that the actions of the various characters could not really be trusted.

In our society, with shows like Law & Order, Detective Conan, as much as I like the series overall, and even shows found on Investigation Discovery, we have been conditioned to think that certain actions or behaviors will only be performed or expressed by guilty people, just like we have been conditioned to think that forensic evidence is concrete prove, when, as I mentioned in my review of Detective Conan episodes 98-99 (Japanese count), though link to the PDF in that review is now dead, it is nothing more than circumstantial evidence.

However, as shown within the pages of this book, there are many different reasons people can be acting the way that they do or run away, despite being innocent of the crime.

This is why I try not to jump onto any one suspect these days when I am watching or reading a work in the detective, mystery, and crime fiction genres, though I do encounter a few instances where I do think that some things need to have more light shined upon them.

It was also nice how each of the characters that would have benefited from the murder did not make the culprit immediately obvious.

While I did say that I try not to jump on any one suspect when dealing with detective, mystery, and crime fiction works, I cannot say that I did not think that any of the characters in the book were guilty, because I too fall into the habit of attributing actions and behaviors to a sign of guilt.

Yes, pretty much all of the motives were the common ones of either money or revenge, or possibly end a relationship, but because none of them immediately stood out from the rest, the book misled me quite a bit.

I really have to hand it to Agatha Christie. She sure knew how to write a good mystery and deserves the moniker that is associated with her.

The thing that I liked the most though was how Miss Marple was not as disappointing as I thought she would be.

In volume 20 of the Detective Conan manga, which tends to regularly feature little bios of various fictional characters and Gosho’s thought of them, Miss Marple is said to be more of an information gatherer than somebody that actually takes down criminals or reveals them to everyone in a room.

Knowing this, I was expecting a story featuring Miss Marple to be much more unsatisfying than reading Gaston Leroux’s Mystery of the Yellow Room.

However, she turned out to be a bit more enjoyable here.

If I had to say why, it is because Miss Marple did not come into the story as soon as Sherlock, Hercule Poirot, and so many other detectives seem to appear on the scene.

This is how definitely how people that mainly do information gather should be dealt with, since the methods that Gosho Aoyama says she utilizes is not something that I would be particularly fond of reading, unlike how Sherlock and Poirot operate, though their assistants do seem to do more legwork than the detectives themselves.

If Agatha Christie did not handle the story the way she did, I would not really see hoe Miss Marple could share the same kind of fame that the other famous fictional detectives have.

By doing this, Agatha Christie has shown that she is a very competent writer in the field of detective fiction and more than deserves the recognition that she gets.

Outside of that, I cannot really think of anything else that I particularly liked.

Because the police do not seem to be incompetent and the book shows why the thinks we usually associate with guilt cannot be completely trusted, as well as the fact that Miss Marple was not as disappointing as I thought she would be, though still not the kind of detective I would like to follow, the book was fairly enjoyable.

Although there were things that I liked about the book, there are some issues.

However, aside from things too minor to talk about, such as typos, there was only one thing that really annoyed me.

The criminal seemed to have gotten off scot-free.

Now, I understand that Miss Marple works a bit differently, compared to the other great detectives of fiction, and that she does not do some big reveal like Sherlock or Poirot, but the criminal in detective fiction usually ends up getting arrested or dies near the end of the book.

Seeing as how Inspector Neele seemed to be much more competent than other policemen in detective fiction, I was hoping for a scene where we find that the criminal has been cornered and Scotland Yard police finally take him away.

Unfortunately, when Miss Marple got the photo she was looking for, the book ends.

Really? Is this an ending that would satisfy fans of work like this?

If it were story featuring Hannibal Lector or Arséne Lupin, this ending might work, but the criminal is not the protagonist in this work.

Agatha Christie wrote a fairly decent story up to this point and by ending it like this, I have no doubt that I am the only one that is disappointed.

After all, it makes me think that the criminal is this case is going to show up again, which he does not, as far as I can tell from information available to me.

If things are not going to end the usual way detective fiction ends, I think that it would have been better to have and ending similar to And Then There Were None, as Agatha Christie ended that story in a satisfying way that answered everything.

Unfortunately, because the book had an unsatisfying ending like this, I am kind of disappointed in Agatha Christie and mark this as a major issue, even though I know that she cannot improve in this area now because she is dead, so I hope that any future writers in the detective, mystery, and crime fiction genres do not make this same mistake, if they want to create a great story.

While the book only had one flaw, that flaw was bad enough to turn an otherwise great book into something that was just okay.

Despite the fact that there was a lot to like, the bad outweighed it enough to make this only good enough to kill time.

I recommend this to fans of the detective, mystery, and crime fiction genres, Agatha Christie, and Miss Marple, even though the ending was a bit disappointing.

As for everyone else, this might be worth trying, so that one can see that things are not always as they seen, but I do not think that this would make anyone interested in the detective, mystery, and crime fiction genres in general.

What are your thoughts on A Pocket Full of Rye? Did you like it or hate it? If you liked it, were you more satisfied with the end than I was or did you feel the way I did? Was there something that you liked or hated that went unmentioned? Feel free to comment.

Copyright © 2016 Bryce Campbell. All Rights Reserved.