Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie – Book Review

This stand-alone mystery was one of the first Christie novels I’ve ever read, and for that reason I’ve always had a soft spot for it even though the best compliment I can give the book is “solid”. Many other Christie novels have more memorable settings and ingenious twists, this one simply has classic crime ingredients – a small group of suspects, poison and red herrings galore – that come together for a cracking good read.

A year ago, beautiful Rosemary Barton died from cyanide poisoning on the evening of her birthday party at a posh West End restaurant, with suicide due to depression as the verdict. Now her grieving husband George is planning to hold a remembrance party at the same restaurant, with the same guests. There is however a secret purpose to the party: a series of anonymous notes received by George convinced him that his wife’s death was a murder, and now he’s determined to set a trap for the culprit.

The novel is split into three parts: it starts out with a chapter dedicated to each of the six key characters who were present at the fateful dinner when Rosemary died, as they reminisce about Rosemary and their relationship with her. There’s Rosemary’s younger sister Iris, husband George, George’s loyal secretary, a rising politician and his wife, and Rosemary’s friend with a possible shady past. Naturally, everyone is revealed to have had a different motive for the murder and, as often happens in Christie’s books, there’s a reward for a second-time reader as some throwaway lines take on a different meaning once you know the ending. The middle part of the novel deals with the second party at the restaurant which, surprise, also ends in tragedy, and the third tells of the aftermath as the whole thing officially becomes police business.

The characterisation here is rather stronger than in some Christie novels; all the principal characters have distinctive personalities and you understand what makes them tick, plus there’s a love story that I actually find genuinely moving (a rarity for me with Christie’s books where romance tends to be perfunctory more often than not). I’m a bit sceptical of whether the final explanation would actually work in the real world off the page, but it’s pretty clever all the same, and the whole mystery is wrapped up in a typically satisfying fashion.

P.S. After re-reading this book in English I’ve learned a brand new word I’ve never encountered before – cyanose. It’s used here to describe the victim’s face turning blue after getting poisoned with cyanide.

P.P.S. Though it’s pretty much a stand-alone novel, Sparkling Cyanide is also classed as a Colonel Race Mystery. Not really sure why as he’s at most a minor recurring character who could have been substituted here with any detective.

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