The stand-alone Agatha Christie books (the ones that feature neither Poirot nor Miss Marple) seem to be a little hit-and-miss.I think that And Then There Were None is one of the cleverest mystery books of all time; I read it before I set up this blog, but you can see The Lit Addicted Brit‘s review here. It’s simply wonderful. But then you have novels like Passenger to Frankfurt (review here – my own this time) where I actually regretted the loss of the few hours it took me to plough through it. So, keeping the above in mind, I was fairly apprehensive when I picked up Sparkling Cyanide. Would it be a spectacular mystery with suspense and a truly thrilling ending, or a complicated political flop?
A beautiful heiress is fatally poisoned in a West End restaurant. Six people sit down to dinner at a table laid for seven. In front of the empty place is a sprig of rosemary — in solemn memory of Rosemary Barton who died at the same table exactly one year previously. No one present on that fateful night would ever forget the woman’s face, contorted beyond recognition — or what they remembered about her astonishing life.
All of society knows that Rosemary Barton committed suicide with cyanide on the evening of her birthday party, but when her husband starts receiving notes that tell him otherwise, he sets out to investigate who could have poisoned his late wife. The book starts out with a chapter devoted to each of the six suspects, as they muse on what they remember of Rosemary Barton. Naturally, as with most mystery novels, it turns out that every single one of them had a motive for murder. After this, the true investigation begins as the Police, aided by an old friend of Mr. Barton, try and discover whether Rosemary’s life was in fact cut short by the hand of another.
I know it’s kind of a strange idea to start a review by talking about the ending of the book, but ohhh, it’s all kinds of awesome! The denouement is always the key to a kick-ass mystery story – if it’s boring, the whole story will fall apart. The revelation in Sparkling Cyanide is definitely not boring. I honest-to-God literally sat here with my Iron Man blanket and went ‘AAaaahhhhh!’ and grinned like a lunatic. It’s very, very nearly as clever as And Then There Were None, and that takes some doing.
The characterisation is a little better than it can be in certain Agatha Christie books. Sometimes they all meld into each other and you can’t remember whether Mrs. Tomato was the lady with the little dog, or whether she was the one that slept with Mrs. Butter’s husband. Anyway, before I get sucked into the world of kitchen related scandal, that’s not the case here. All the suspects have identifiable personalities, and I was fascinated by how each person could have a different perspective on the same event. Frequently a person would know something that another person didn’t think they knew, and that could affect the entire case. It was just wonderful how everything could tie in with everything else.
Agatha Christie books are very difficult to review, because they all follow more or less the same formula, so I only usually bother if they’re particularly good or particularly bad. I read Sparkling Cyanide in pretty much one sitting and it emerged as at least one of my top three mystery novels.