Not your average cocktail.

Not your average cocktail.

“Iris Marle was thinking about her sister, Rosemary.”

We arrive now at the first Agatha Christie novel of 2016, Sparkling Cyanide. Although lacking in any of the more prominent detectives, we do get Colonel Race, a former soldier and MI5 agent who turns up in a few books either to aid Poirot or replace him. In this case, he works with the police to solve a bizarre double murder.

A year before the novel opens, Rosemary Barton died at the dinner table of a fancy London restaurant, the Luxembourg. At the time, it was deemed by the police to be suicide. Rosemary had slipped cyanide into her own drink and killed herself, although no one could really explain why. However, a year on, it turns out that the six other people who had been sat at the table that night are all thinking on the events, and it transpires that each of them had a reason to see Rosemary dead.

Her husband, George, had suspected her of an affair. Her sister, Iris, came into a lot of money after her death. Anthony was suspect because Rosemary knew the truth about his past misdemeanors, and George’s secretary Ruth was in love with her employer, and wouldn’t it have been helpful to have Rosemary out of the way? Finally, there was Stephen Farraday and his wife Sandra, the man that Rosemary was having an affair with, although he was trying to end it, and the woman who knew about it all but kept quiet with simmering rage.

A year later, almost to the day, George invites the same people back to the same table in the same restaurant with the plan to lay a trap, having come to believe that it wasn’t suicide at all, but pure cold-blooded murder. But great plans often go wrong, and when history repeats itself, the police find themselves dealing with a double murder where everyone and no one seems guilty.

The novel took a while to get going, I thought, but once it found its feet we were well away. The first six chapters detail the suspects’ memories of the night of Rosemary’s death, and then we follow George’s descent into possible madness as he brings everyone back together, while struggling also with his nephew Victor who keeps sending messages demanding money. It’s a book where everyone is hiding secrets and everyone seems just as likely to have committed the murders, but there’s also no evidence that’s obvious to say which one did.

Somehow, despite all this, I remain intensely proud of myself because I got it right! I’d made my guess quite early on in the telling, and didn’t waver for once, to find that I was correct in nailing the murderer! I didn’t get all the details – does anyone? – but I got the main answer and that’s good enough for me. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of these books with just a few to go. Christie uses her usual raft of red herrings and twists here, but if you’re paying close enough attention, she actually spells out the solution for you early on … although I admit that’s not what led me to the answer, and I still missed it.

Sharp as usual, but it’s a retelling of her short story Yellow Iris, which originally contained Poirot, and you can tell he’s missing from here. This feels like one of his stories, and much as I like Race, it’s a shame to lose the little Belgian. But it’s a good one nonetheless, and will make you double check your champagne glass before you drink from now on…

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