It all begins with the death of Rosemary Barton. She dies at a dinner party, sitting at a table surrounded by friends and family, and after taking a sip from her champagne glass, falls down dead. Police investigations uncover traces of the poison, cyanide. As she had previously suffered from depression following a bout of influenza, and they simply cannot find any evidence to the contrary, Rosemary’s death is ruled a suicide and that they say is that…
Months later Rosemary’s older husband, George Barton, receives letters from an anonymous source claiming that her death was not in fact a suicide, but rather a murder.
The real fun takes place when George begins to plan a birthday party in honor of Rosemary’s sister Iris. Whilst Rosemary was more the vapid but beautiful socialite, Iris is more quiet and reserved and can hold up a far better conversation. For the party that will take place almost a year after his wife’s untimely demise, he reserves the same restaurant and invites the same people that attended the fatal one. It is with complete shock and surprise that this party also ends in tragedy and it is now up to Colonel Race, of New Scotland Yard, and Chief Inspector Kemp to solve this rather baffling case.
Each initial chapter introduces us to each guest (suspect), and it is through them that we learn a little more about dear Rosemary, and also allows the reader to discover the different motives each person had for wanting Rosemary dead.
Those invited include Stephen Farraday, whose marriage to Alexandra Hayle (also known as Susan Farraday) at first appears to be out of convenience as his career as a politician in the Liberal Party is furthered due to her family being both prestigious and affluent. Stephen has an affair with Rosemary and Susan is secretly aware of this, but chooses not to say anything due to her love for Stephen.
Then there’s Ruth Lessing, the very attractive and shrewd personal secretary of George Barton, who is secretly in love with George, and had very little regard for his deceased wife when she was alive.
Next up is Anthony Browne, the mysterious American, who just so happens to also be a beau of Rosemary’s. However he is a reluctant one, and is revealed to also hold the identity of a Tony Morelli. Who is he really?
Lucilla and Viktor Drake are a mother and son who were never guests at the infamous and fatal dinner party; however their roles though on the periphery, are eluded to several times. Lucilla, George’s sister is brought into the home to take care of the running of the house and to chaperone the unmarried Iris. Her son, a spoiled and demanding individual usually manages to manipulate his elderly mother into sending him money. Both characters seem capable of skulduggery to be honest.
Finally, there is Iris Marle, younger sister of Rosemary whose fatal birthday party sets the scene for this delicious crime caper. Iris’ life at the Barton’s began after her parents died and she was sent to live with Rosemary and George. It is also worth noting that both sisters had an uncle whom, after dying years previously, left his entire fortune to Rosemary, which would not go to Iris but rather George in the event of Rosemary’s death.
Given all this information it is completely understandable that Race and Kemp have their work cut out for them. So begins the task of interviewing not only the guests but also the witnesses at the restaurant, including fumbling waiters and self-absorbed socialites.
Agatha Christie’s delicate and effortless descriptions of her inevitably flawed characters never hide the respect she has for their roles in her stories. In many of her novels I wait breathlessly for the discovery or the finale, but somehow Sparkling Cyanide had me invested in all their lives so much so that I couldn’t bear the thought of any of them being even remotely sinister. I think that was a great quality of the authoress. She cared as much about her characters as she did about the intricate plots, and her keen insight into human behavior and her ability to make social observations during that particular era was slightly controversial in all the best ways possible.
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