Sparkling Cyanide is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in February 1945 under the title of Remembered Death and in UK by the Collins Crime Club in the December of the same year under Christie's original title. The US edition retailed at $2.00 and the UK edition at eight shillings and sixpence (8/6 - 42½p).
The book features the recurring character of Colonel Race for the last time and was an expansion of a Hercule Poirot short story entitled Yellow Iris which had previously been published in issue 559 of the Strand Magazine in July 1937 and in book form in The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories in the US in 1939. It was published in the UK in Problem at Pollensa Bay in 1991. The full-length novel omits the character of Poirot, substituting Colonel Race as the central investigative character instead.
The novel uses the basics of the short story, including the method of the poisoning, but changes the identity of the culprit(s) - not for the first time, when Agatha Christie rewrote her own work.
Rosemary is for remembrance...
Eleven months have passed since the death of the young and beautiful Rosemary Barton, and her memory is still on her family and friends' mind. Suddenly, a series of anonymous letters make clear that her death was not due to post-flu depresson, as the enquiry declared, but of murder. But who could have wanted Rosemary's death? A betrayed husband, a jealous sister, an annoyed lover, or a vindictive wife? Or perhaps Rosemary had really decided to kill herself because a dark secret was tormenting her? What is clear is that none of the people who attended the dinner party at the Luxembourg that night were exactly who they said they were. But truth will come up only after a fatal reconstruction of the crime...
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
One year ago on 2 November, six people sat down to dinner at the restaurant "Luxembourg". One of them, Rosemary Barton, never got up. She was thought to have committed suicide due to post-flu depression. Her husband, George Barton, received anonymous letters saying that Rosemary did not kill herself but was murdered. George started to investigate and decided to reconstruct the dinner at the same restaurant, inviting the same people as well as an actress that looked like his late wife. The actress did not arrive and that night George died at the table - poisoned, like his wife, by cyanide in his glass.
His death would have been dismissed as suicide as well if not for the investigation of his friend Colonel Race. During the investigation it is revealed that the intended victim was Rosemary's young sister Iris. Due to a stipulation of her uncle's will as Rosemary died childless her inherited fortune passed to her teenage sister when she died. If Iris had died at the table as intended the money in turn would have passed to her aunt Mrs. Drake. Mrs. Drake is very much at the mercy of her lazy son Victor, who often threatens to commit suicide when he needs money from his mother. Colonel Race and Iris's suitor, Anthony Browne, discover that Victor had planned the murder together with his lover Ruth Lessing, who was also George's secretary.
The plan failed because when the group went to dance Iris dropped her bag and the waiter that retrieved it placed it a seat away from where she was before she went to dance. When the companions returned to the table, George sat at Iris's original place and drank the poisoned champagne. In order to confirm the suicidal nature of the death Ruth had planted a pack of cyanide in Iris's bag and Victor had disguised himself as a waiter in order to poison the champagne. When this failed, Ruth then attempted to run over Iris with a car.
Eventually, Colonel Race together with Chief Inspector Kemp and Anthony Browne unravel the truth and save Iris from being gassed to death by Ruth, who had knocked her out, trying to stage her "suicide'. The anonymous letters to George were sent by Ruth in order to convince him to re-stage the dinner at Luxembourg so that Victor and Ruth could try to kill Iris.
Members of the dinner parties at the Luxembourg restaurant
- Rosemary Barton - the main murder victim. Of great physical beauty, Rosemary was married to George Barton and was the sister of Iris Marle. She used to monopolize her mother's affections. Rosemary's death was declared to be suicide due to post-flu depression. Later revealed to be murder.
- George Barton - Rosemary's older husband. Was on intimate terms with Iris Marle, and a childhood friend of Colonel Race. He is poisoned during the second dinner at the Luxembourg.
- Iris Marle - Rosemary Barton's sister, six years younger than her. She was less attractive than her sister but had a personality that Rosemary would have never had. She is the intended murder victim, and George died in her place.
- Stephen Farraday - friend of Rosemary Barton, a politician. Rosemary was interested in politics only after knowing Stephen. The two were having an affair before the opening of the novel.
- Lady Sandra Farraday - Stephen's wife. She knew of the affair between Stephen and Rosemary but would hide tha fact that she knew. Lady Sandra was the daughter of the wealthy Lord Kidderminster.
- Ruth Lessing - the highly efficient secretary of George Barton, considered as one of the family members. She would have liked to become the second wife of her employer.
- Anthony Browne - a mysterious American, who was on intimate terms with the Marle sisters. Victor Drake told Rosemary of the name used by Browne when he was in prison: "Tony Morelli".
Other important characters
- Colonel Race - old friend of George Barton. Investigates the murders that take place with the help of Chief Inspector Kemp from Scotland Yard.
- Victor Drake - the son of Lucilla Drake, and a distant relative of the Marles. He is the black sheep of the family, who wants money but doesn't work to get any. He tells Rosemary Barton about the identity of Anthony Browne.
- Chief Inspector Kemp - investigating officer of George Barton's death, from Scotland Yard.
- Lucilla Drake - aunt of the Marle sisters, and mother of Victor. Lived in Elvaston Square with George and Iris.
- Giuseppe Bolsano - headwaiter at the Luxembourg restaurant. He has a wife and three children.
- “Uncle” Paul Bennett - wealthy friend of the Marle family. Left his fortune to Rosemary Barton, and if Rosemary died without children, her fortune would pass to Iris.
- Viola Marle - the mother of Rosemary and Iris, of a delicate health. Cared more about Rosemary than about her other daughter.
- Hector Marle - father of the Marle sisters, a mean drunk man. Died when Rosemary was eleven and Iris was five.
- Chloe Elizabeth West - actress called in by George Barton to pose as Rosemary and force the killer to confess
- Pierre, sixteen year old waiter
- Gloria King, Maisie Atwell and Jean Raymond - friends of Rosemary Barton
- Lord Kidderminster - father of Sandra Farraday
- Lady Kidderminster - mother of Sandra, who would defend her even if she had committed murder
- Dr Gaskell, physician
- Dr Wylie, physician
- Cranford, grocer
- Lord Dewsbury
- Mrs Pound
Customers of the Luxembourg
- Pedro Morales and his girlfriend, Christine Shannon
- Gerald Tollington and Patricia Brice-Woodworth, another couple
Literary significance and reception
The book was not reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement.
Maurice Richardson, in the 13 January 1946 issue of The Observer wrote, "Agatha Christie readers are divided into two groups: first, fans like me who will put up with any amount of bamboozling for the sake of the pricking suspense, the close finish, six abreast, of the suspect race, and the crashing chord of the trick solution; second, knockers who complain it isn't cricket and anyway there's nothing to it.
Fans, I guarantee will be quite happy with Sparkling Cyanide, a high income group double murder, first of wayward smarty Rosemary, second of dull husband George at his lunatic reconstruction-of-the-crime party. It is too forced to rank with her best Number One form, but the suspect race is up to scratch and readability is high. Making allowances for six years of spam and cataclysm, quite a credible performance."
An unnamed reviewer in the Toronto Daily Star of February 24, 1945 said, "Suspense is well maintained and suspicion well divided. While this mystery lacks Hercule Poirot, it should nevertheless please all Agatha Christie fans, especially those who like the murders in the fast, sophisticated set."
Robert Barnard: "Murder in the past, previously accepted as suicide. Upper-class tart gets her come-uppance in smart London restaurant, and husband later suffers the same fate. Compulsively told, the strategies of deception smart as a new pin, and generally well up to 'forties standard. But the solution takes more swallowing than cyanided champagne."
References to other works
At one point Lucilla Drake mentions Dr Gaskell when talking to Iris Marle, and later changes argument and remembers the pharmacist. Indeed, Iris states that Lucilla has a peculiar way of thinking, and remarks that if she had asked why Dr Gaskell reminded her of the grocer, Lucilla would have said “because the grocer's name is Cranford”. This is a reference to Cranford, a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell.
Film, TV, Radio and theatrical adaptations
In 1983, CBS adapted the book for television, directed by Robert Michael Lewis, set in the modern day and starring Anthony Andrews as the central character, Tony Browne. This adaptation did not feature Colonel Race.
In late 2003, it was loosely adapted by Laura Lamson for ITV1, again in a modern setting, and involving a football manager's wife's murder. In this adaptation Colonel Race was renamed Colonel Geoffrey Reece, and given a partner, his wife, Dr. Catherine Kendall. The byplay between Reece (played by Oliver Ford Davies) and Kendall (played by Pauline Collins) was somewhat similar to Christie's characters Tommy and Tuppence.
In 2012, a three-part adaptation by Joy Wilkinson was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 directed by Mary Peate with Naomi Frederick as Iris, Peter Wright as George, Amanda Drew as Ruth, Colin Tierney as Anthony, James Lailey as Stephen, Sean Baker as Colonel Race and Jasmine Hyde as Rosemary.
Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha
A French adaptation was made by Escazal Films and France Télévisions called Meurtre au champagne which formed part of the TV series Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie. Overall, it is one of the most faithful adaptations of the series. The major difference could perhaps be that all the names of the characters’ names are changed. For example, George Barton changes to Georges Leroy, Ruth Lessing to Babette, Victor Drake to Victor Lebrun and Iris Marle to Violette. It starred Èlodie Navarre as Elvire Morenkova (Rosemary), Jean-Philippe Ècoffey as Georges Leroy, Samuel Labarthe as Commissaire Laurence, Blandine Bellavoir as Alice Avril, Hélène Medigue as Babette, Luis Inacio as Victor Lebrun, and Claude Perron as Claude Kerrigan (Lady Sandra Farraday?). There is no definite parallel of Chloe West but here Georges calls Alice Avril in.
- 1945, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), February 1945, Hardback, 209 pp
- 1945, Collins Crime Club (London), December 1945, Hardback, 160 pp
- 1947, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback (Pocket number 451)
- 1955, Pan Books, Paperback, 159 pp (Pan number 345)
- 1955, Pan Books, Paperback, (Great Pan 156)
- 1960, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 160 pp
- 1978, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 358 pp ISBN 0-7089-0223-5
- 2010, HarperCollins; Facsimile edition, Hardcover: 160 pages, ISBN 978-0-00-735470-2
The novel's first true publication was the serialisation in The Saturday Evening Post in eight instalments from 15 July (Volume 216, Number 3) to 2 September 1944 (Volume 217, Number 10) under the title Remembered Death with illustrations by Hy Rubin.
The novel was first serialised, heavily abridged, in the UK in the Daily Express starting on Monday, 9 July 1945 and running for eighteen instalments until Saturday, 28 July. The first instalment carried an uncredited illustration.
- Czech: Cyankáli v šampaňském (Cyanide in Champagne)
- German: Blausäure (Cyanhydric Acid)
- French: Meurtre au Champagne (Murder by Champagne)
- Italian: Giorno dei morti ("Day of the Dead", reference to the day George Barton died)
- Swedish: Cyankalium och champagne (Potassium cyanide and Champagne)
- Portuguese (Brazilian): Um Brinde de Cianureto (A Cyanide Toast)