It’s now been about two years since I decided I wanted to read all of Agatha Christie’s novels in chronological order. I’m not reading her works exclusively, of course, so I haven’t exactly been tearing through the list at high speed. To date, I’ve read 36 Christie novels, which works out to one about every 3-4 weeks or so. That might sound like a lot, but it really isn’t when you consider the fact that each one is only about 250-300 pages long.
At any rate, I’m still plodding along because I end up liking the books more often than not, and have just finished Sparkling Cyanide, which was published in 1945. I can’t believe I still have 30 left to go, though! Wow, Christie certainly was prolific, wasn’t she?
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Unlike most Christie books in which the first several chapters are spent introducing the reader to the main characters, one of whom will be murdered during the course of the novel, Sparkling Cyanide begins after a murder has already taken place. One year ago, Rosemary Barton and six friends were having dinner at a swanky hotel restaurant to celebrate Rosemary’s birthday. Her husband George made a toast in her honor, after which everyone clinked champagne glasses and drank up. Rosemary died shortly thereafter, and the cause of death was attributed to cyanide poisoning.
Police inspectors ruled the death a suicide after a perfunctory investigation. It seemed that Rosemary might have been suffering from “depression after influenza”, and might also have been down in the dumps because of a love affair gone bad. However, George never quite accepted the suicide theory, saying that it didn’t fit Rosemary’s character. His suspicions are borne out when he starts receiving anonymous letters saying that Rosemary was indeed murdered.
Upon further investigation, it turns out that every single person at the dinner had both the motive and opportunity to kill Rosemary. First, there was her sister Iris, who stood to inherit a fortune if Rosemary died. Then there was Stephen Farraday, Rosemary’s lover and member of Parliament whose career and marriage would be shot to hell if Rosemary spilled the beans about their affair. Stephen’s wife Sandra might have done the deed out of jealousy, as might Ruth Lessing, who was in love with George. Finally, there was Anthony Browne, Ruth’s American friend whose shady past included a prison stint.
George gets it into his mind to out the killer by staging another party with the exact same guests on the one-year anniversary of Rosemary’s death. However, things don’t go as planned, and another person is murdered by the same method. The police, headed by Col. Race, then get involved again, and eventually end up solving the crimes.
My Reaction: It took me longer than usual to get through Sparkling Cyanide, as I didn’t really get into the story until the latter half of the book after the relationship between each individual character and Rosemary was revealed. Once I learned that everyone had a motive for wanting Rosemary dead and saw how the pieces could potentially fit together, I began turning the pages a bit faster.
I didn’t mind the approach that Christie took in this novel (having the first murder occur “off stage”, so to speak, and in the past), mostly because it reminded me of Cold Case, a television show that I watch regularly. Sure, it prevented me from caring about Rosemary at all, but I did become sympathetic towards George and Iris, which turned out to be important later on.
Because each suspect had a good reason to kill Rosemary, I was kept guessing right up until the very end. The solution to the crime was believable and satisfactory, so that was an added bonus here.
Overall, I thought Sparkling Cyanide was a solid read. It wasn’t as charismatic or fun as a typical Poirot mystery, but it still has a lot to offer mystery fans. Check it out for yourself!