Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie

Sparkling cyanideSparkling Cyanide (published as Remembered Death in America) was first published in 1945. It is a novel in which a crime is investigated a year after it was committed.

Rosemary, the wife of wealthy George Barton dies suddenly at her birthday party at a West End Restaurant, the Luxembourg, after drinking a glass of champagne laced with cyanide. Rosemary had been in a depressed and unhappy state of mind after having a bout of influenza.The official verdict was that she had committed suicide but a year on George, having received anonymous letters stating her death wasn’t suicide, is convinced that she was murdered. He arranges another party, this time for Iris, Rosemary’s younger sister, inviting the same guests, hoping to identify the murderer. But his plan goes awry, as after drinking a toast to Rosemary’s remembrance the party ends with yet another death.

Rosemary was a wealthy heiress in her own right and after her death her inheritance had passed to Iris. George had invited Colonel Race* to both parties, but he had been absent both times. He had known George since his boyhood but had only once met Rosemary, who he thought of as ‘a singularly lovely nit-wit – but certainly not a melancholic type‘. He helps Chief Inspector Kemp of Scotland Yard to investigate both deaths. As well as Iris and George the guests at the party were Ruth Lessing, George’s efficient secretary, and Rosemary’s friends, Anthony Browne, a man with a dubious past and a politician Stephen Farraday and his wife Sandra.

In a series of flashbacks Agatha Christie highlights each person and their relationships with Rosemary and it appears that each one, including George and Iris had a motive for killing her. I was convinced quite early on that one particular character had to be the murderer, but reading further on I began to have doubts, switching from one person to another. As it turned out I was right about my first suspect – Agatha Christie was expert at writing things that could be taken two ways. If I was right about the ‘who’ I couldn’t work out the ‘how’, particularly for the second death, but knew that where everyone sat at the round table was significant. When that was revealed I thought it was difficult to believe, which is why I don’t place it among her best books – but it’s still a very enjoyable read. And it was popular with the public achieving sales of thirty thousand in the first year of publication.

*Colonel Race – first appeared in The Man in the Brown Suit, also in Cards on the Table and Death on the Nile. His appearance in Sparkling Cyanide was his last. He was an agent working for the British Secret Service, often sent on difficult or sensitive missions. In this book he is over sixty, described as ‘a tall, erect, military figure with sunburnt face, closely cropped iron-grey hair, and shrewd dark eyes‘.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge and Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt for the Golden Age in the category of ‘Bottle/Glass for drinking’.

7 thoughts on “Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie”

  1. Yes, I always thought of Colonel Race as a bit a Bond type guy. I like the books that he appears in. I think I didn’t actually read this book, but read it in play form. That’s my memory anyway. And I’ve forgotten the killer. I’d like to read Christie’s book of plays this year, which I have on my Kindle. I had a good time with that many years ago.

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    1. I have some of her plays to read this year too. I don’t think I can remember the killers in the books I read a few years ago, but I think you’d remember the killer in this one when you’ve got a little way into the book!

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  2. I wonder why they changed the name for America? I think Sparkling Cyanide is a great title. It’s years since I read this, so I can’t remember exactly what happened with the seating at the end, but I do remember enjoying it, though it never became one of my frequent re-read favourites.

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    1. I think Sparkling Cyanide is a much better title – much more distinctive – so why change it? Maybe they didn’t have the publishing rights in the US? I ‘d love to know – there are other title changes too.

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  3. I agree with you, Margaret, that it’s an enjoyable read. It’s not among her very best, but still a nice little story. And I think the difference between this one and the original short story Yellow Iris are interesting.

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