Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review - Agatha Christie's Sparkling Cyanide

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 1945
Format: Hardcover, 160 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
There are six people thinking of Rosemary. Her husband and his secretary, her sister and the man she loves, Rosemary's ex-lover and his wife. A year before they all saw her die in front of their eyes of cyanide poisoning. Ruled a suicide, they where all dining with her around the restaurant table when she took her life. No one had any inkling that her death was anything other than that.  Till her husband George gets an anonymous letter saying that Rosemary was murdered. George becomes obsessed with finding his wife's killer. He concocts a plan to bring everyone back together on the anniversary of his wife's death. He will recreate the circumstances and the killer will be revealed. Only George didn't think that maybe the killer would strike again in the same fashion. The good Colonel Race steps in with Scotland Yard to sort out who among the dinners was the killer. Because if the second death proved anything, it was that Rosemary was murdered.

The greatest advantage Sparkling Cyanide has is that I've never seen an adaptation of it. I will fully admit at the outset I am an Agatha Christie whore. Give me some Poirot with David Suchet, give me some Marple with Geraldine McEwan, who in my mind was the truest Marple, sorry Julia McKenzie, I really liked you in Cranford, but you ain't Marple. It's also surprising that this hasn't been bastardized into an episode of Marple, which is the BBC's newest obsession. What do you do when you run out of Marple stories to tell? Start fiddling with the non-Marple stories but of course, Pale Horse anyone? I heard what you're up to with Endless Night, and there's no way that that will work, it's not a good Christie book, so try something else. Therefore, unlike previous delvings into Christie, I didn't have an inkling who-dun-it. And that's the key to Christie isn't it? At least the first time you read the book. The second time is watching how the puzzle was seamlessly put together and then realizing you had to be an idiot to swallow all those red herrings.

Yet, the murder, while interesting, wasn't what made this book so wonderful for me. The elegance of the time period and the characters are what drew me in. The glamor of Rosemary. Her life of partying and gambling. Her clothes and her carriage. The ritzy restaurant that had a cabaret show and dancing. All the dancing. The details of the couture, the severe lines and emeralds of one dress, the young naivety of another. Ah, to go back then just for the ambiance. I can see it all so clearly. Yet, that is, in essence, window dressing. The people inside the clothes are what matter most. Starting the book with a chapter from each of the different characters POV connects us to them in a way that a normal narrative wouldn't. If one of these characters is the killer, than we have missed the flaw in their thought patterns. One of these people had to have done it. Yet there's nothing that is obvious until the end. This works in a way that the narration of Christie's other novel, Endless Night didn't. By showing us all the suspects, we know that all but one are telling the truth and aren't forced to rely on a single narrator. The police and Race fall rather flat compared to the other characters, mainly because we weren't allowed a peak behind the curtain. This book will leave you hanging till the very end when everything falls into place and is put back on the table.


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