RogerBW's Blog

A Pocket Full of Rye 16 January 2022

1995 audio adaptation by Michael Bakewell of Christie's 1953 mystery, in one 90-minute episode. Rex Fortescue dies of poisoned marmalade, and someone has filled his pocket with grains of rye.

This is another of the post-war Christies which seem to me to get increasingly baroque in the arrangements of people and plot, perhaps in the hope of distracting the readers' attention from the way the old world really didn't exist any more. In this case there are several subsidiary sins by minor characters, not germane to the murder plot or even particularly connected to it, thrown in to give people an excuse not to tell the truth; and economy of character has perhaps been discarded in favour of show.

Still, Miss Marple is played well by June Whitfield; there are some very strange other voices, especially Gladys the maid (Claire Mackie) whose plot-device letter solves the problem of evidence when Miss Marple herself can't. Miss Grosvenor (Jilly Bond) plods through her lines in a way that seems inappropriate for a high-powered secretary. On the other hand Miss Dove (Kristin Milward) is splendid in, admittedly, a very rewarding role as a high-powered and contemptuous housekeeper, and Vivian Dubois (Michael Tudor Barnes) is a gorgeously overplayed fortune-hunting spiv.

This is of course the second type of murder mystery, the one in which nobody is particularly sorry that the victim is dead, and we have a thoroughly unsympathetic family to deal with. The cast do their best, but this is never a cheerful murder of the sort Christie at her best made possible.


  1. Posted by John P at 11:35pm on 16 January 2022

    It's not particularly related to this, but have you ever seen a road sign to some place and thought "that sounds like it ought to be a name of a character in a play or novel."? For example, these villages near Leicester sound to me like like they belong to people in somethng like a Bertie Wooster novel.

    Newton Harcourt
    Burton Overy
    Carlton Curlieu
    Smeeton Westerby
    Stonton Wyville
    Marston Trussell

  2. Posted by Chris at 12:19pm on 17 January 2022

    I have a little list... A different list from the "yes well English has weird place-names" one for places like Ufton Nervet and Birkin and and Hinton Blewett and Limpley Stoke and Wetwang.

    It isn't just villages; Leigh Delamere is a barmaid in a not-very-salubrious pub on the Seven Sisters Road in about 1910, for instance, and Primrose Hill is the ingenue she takes under her wing and saves from a death worse than fate in chapter seven. (The Hills are a family: Primrose has sisters called Daisy and Fern and a brother Bobby, and her father is called Wellington; her mother is dead, that's why she ran away from home. There are also Uncle Burgess and Aunt Annis, Cousins Dale and Ash, Marley who moved to the Argentine, Dudley and Robin and their son Harewood -- Dudley is a Bronte fan -- and Carley, a sort of distant cousin who comes to the rescue in the nick of time.) But Alfrick Pound is the sidekick of a thuggish villain, who means no harm himself and whose stupidity helps Our Hero considerably; Carleton Forehoe runs a furniture shop; Sydling St Nicholas is a penniless member of the minor nobility, a friend of Catherine de Barnes; Elmstone Hardwicke is a tenant farmer who keeps cattle in Northamptonshire. And so on. I was going to write a book.

    Georgette Heyer, after her first few books, gave her characters surnames that were English villages too. That includes minor characters like footpads and laundrymaids as well as the heroines, heroes and villains.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 12:34pm on 17 January 2022

    Sydling St Nicholas might have been a vicar, but he didn't have the Latin.

    Glen Parva turns up in his MG to cause romantic distractions. Staunton, Harold, is probably the hero's old school friend. Bracebridge Heath is a rugby player with no neck, Gedney Dyke the pipe-smoking artistic type with a sinister beard, and "Silk" Willoughby slides up to the hero and explains how all this bother can easily be settled for just a small consideration.

  4. Posted by John P at 11:55pm on 17 January 2022

    Chris, you've forgotten Dollis Hill who eloped to north London to be with that rich bounder Gladstone Park.

    Yes, the thought of the characters behind the names had occurred to me too. I think of Newton Harcourt as a nouveau riche millionaire banker or businessman (maybe with his brother Kibworth Harcourt) and Carlton Curlieu is a senior civil servant in some obscure but very influential department. Stonton Wyville is a bit of a drunken rake, Marston Trussell is a struggling artist and Burton Overy is an actor. Not sure about Smeeton Westerby though.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 09:12am on 18 January 2022

    Oh, "Dolly" Hill, of courseā€¦

    Smeeton Westerby made a fortune off the Westerby Patent Trouser-Press.

  6. Posted by Gus at 10:58am on 18 January 2022

    Ocle Pychard, former racing driver and suspected cardsharp.

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