Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie

Sparkling CyanideRosemary Barton sat down to dinner with six friends at the Hotel “Luxembourg”. She drank a toast and collapsed, dead by cyanide poisoning (which you’d never guess from the title, would you?) All of the usual suspects for a murder are present – the wronged husband, her two paramours, a paramour’s wronged wife, her husband’s loyal secretary and her sister (who would inherit a sackload of money if Rosemary died).

But there was no way that she could have been poisoned. Despite no apparent reason, everyone assumed that she committed suicide. But six months later, notes are sent to her husband that claim Rosemary was murdered. Enlisting the help of ex-MI5 investigator Colonel Race to find the truth, George Barton reassembles the dinner guests to uncover the truth – but the murderer has other plans…

OK, spoiler warning. The events of the second dinner are detailed on most of the blurbs of the book, but I’m not going to go into details as they happen more than halfway through the book. So commenters, please don’t go into details of that bit.

Rather amazingly, I’ve never read Sparkling Cyanide before. Actually, there are a few non-series Christie’s that I’ve never read but this is probably the most famous of them. It’s especially odd due to the fact that it’s one of the few novels that she wrote than could be classed as an impossible crime (although I don’t recall it ever being referred to as such.) The heart of the mystery is, as ever with the best Christie books, based on a single piece of misdirection, which is one of her best – it’s similar to one of my favourite short stories by another author who I won’t name. Oh, and the whole thing is an expansion of the Poirot short story Yellow Iris (which I haven’t read, btw).

It’s also one of Dame Agatha’s more character-driven pieces with the first half of the book taken up by chapters detailing the inner thoughts of the six surviving dinner guests, a clear violation of Rule 1 of the Decalogue, but it works exceptionally well.  It’s also to the author’s credit that once Colonel Race gets involved, the tone doesn’t abruptly change but smoothly transitions into the investigational aspect. It’s important for the tale that the more fallible Race is the detective in the tale, rather than Poirot, as it suits the structure of the tale well.

Something that I’ve learned from the book 1: cyanide doesn’t smell of almonds if it might derail the story. Seriously, the almond thing is never mentioned, unlike almost every other book featuring cyanide – although apparently it doesn’t always smell, according to the internet.

Something that I’ve learned from the book 2: Meals were a little different back then – the menu for the meal is: Oysters, Soup, Sole, Grouse, Pears, Chicken Livers. Seriously, chicken livers after dessert? Weird.

Something that I’ve learned from the book 3: Agatha Christie could predict the future. To quote: “It’s very true, Kemp – these twitterers can tell one a lot if one just lets them – twitter.” OK, the verb is “tweet” but that’s not bad…

To summarise – probably my favourite non-series Christie novel – I’m not counting Race’s two solo books as a series. Highly Recommended.

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11 comments

  1. This is a brilliant novel with superb characterisation.
    The trick used for the “impossible crime” is similar to that in another novel by Agatha Christie and also a short story by another author which is overrated in your opinion.

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    • Not that bit of the trick – although there is a significant difference between this and the short story. It’s the other part of the crime that makes it all work that is the clever bit (and occurs in a very different short story by a different author)

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  2. “….the first half of the book taken up by chapters detailing the inner thoughts of the six surviving dinner guests…..”
    I have no problem with this. It is good for the reader since there can’t be any lies in the inner thoughts whereas there may be lies in spoken words and written statements.

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    • But the writer has to take scrupulous care with the killer’s thoughts if they are playing fair. This is why Knox was against it – remember, if one character knows perfectly well what happened, then their musings on the past must reflect that without giving the game away. That’s not an easy thing to do – but Christie pulls it off here perfectly.

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