Sparkling Cyanide (1945) – Agatha Christie
Of the Golden Age grand dames, Agatha Christie has always been my least favorite. Though her plots are ingenious, I’ve often felt that Christie’s characters were two-dimensional stereotypes, chessmen to be moved around as the plot twists dictated. Her detective Poirot has frequently irritated me too, with his smug hints as to how much more he knows than I do. (I enjoy David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot nonetheless.)
But I was really drawn into Sparkling Cyanide (also published as Remembered Death), the story of the murder of Rosemary Barton and the memories of each of the people present at her death, and I found it difficult to put down. I ended up really liking the characters of Iris and Sandra, and was taken by surprise by more than one of the plot twists.
The parallel structure of all the different characters’ narratives was nicely done. And as the detective, Colonel Race was a pleasant low-key alternative to Poirot. Though the final explanation of how the murder was accomplished was far-fetched and the actual modus operandi not clearly explained, the identity of the villain was convincing. I suspected him/her all along!
Christie’s books have sold billions of copies; for many, hers is a brand name synonymous with mystery. Published near the end of the second World War, Sparkling Cyanide has no allusions to the war or the deprivations it caused the British people, and was undoubtedly a welcome escape for the readers of that time. It still works that way for me.