Sparkling Cyanide is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, 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).
The novel features the recurring character of Colonel Race for his last appearance to solve the mysterious deaths of a married couple, exactly one year apart. The plot of this novel expands the plot of a short story, “Yellow Iris”.
The plot of this novel is 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 book form in the UK in Problem at Pollensa Bay in 1991.
The full-length novel has Colonel Race as the central investigative character in place of Poirot, who had that role in the short story. 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 Christie rewrote her own work.
One year earlier on 2 November, seven people sat down to dinner at the Luxembourg restaurant. One, Rosemary Barton, never got up; instead she collapsed and died. The coroner ruled her death suicide by poisoning, due to post-flu depression.
Six months later, her husband George receives anonymous letters saying that Rosemary was murdered. George investigates and decides to repeat the dinner at the same restaurant, with the same guests, plus an actress who looks like his late wife, and who is meant to arrive late and startle the murderer into making a confession. The actress does not arrive and George dies at the table – poisoned, like his wife, by cyanide in his champagne. His death might have been judged as suicide, but George shared his concerns and some of his plan with his friend Colonel Race.
As per their uncle’s will, if Rosemary died childless her inherited fortune passed to her younger sister Iris, now a wealthy girl. If Iris dies unmarried, the money would pass to her only relative, her aunt Lucilla Drake. Mrs Drake is a decent person but her son, Victor, is decidedly not. During the investigation it becomes clear that the intended victim was Iris. Colonel Race and Iris’s suitor, Anthony Browne, realise that Ruth Lessing, George’s trusted secretary, had fallen for Victor a year earlier.
The wrong person dies because of Iris’s evening bag and the toast to her, the conjuring trick that saves her life. After the entertainment, George proposes a toast to Iris, when all sip champagne except her, being toasted. When the group leaves the table to dance, Iris drops her bag; a young waiter, retrieving it, misplaces it at the seat adjacent hers. When, in the dark, the group returns to the table, Iris sits one seat askew due to the misplaced bag. Everyone else therefore sits one seat askew. George sits at Iris’s original seat and drinks the poisoned champagne. When this plot fails, Ruth attempts to run Iris over with a car. Colonel Race, together with the police and Anthony Browne, unravel the truth in time to save Iris from Ruth. Her last attempt at killing Iris is to knock her unconscious in her bedroom, then turn on the fireplace gas, and leave the house. Anthony and Colonel Race rescue Iris in the nick of time.
The anonymous letters to George were sent by Ruth, who then encouraged him to re-stage the dinner at the Luxembourg so that Victor and Ruth could kill Iris, as they killed Rosemary. To support a decision of suicide, Ruth had planted a packet of cyanide in Iris’s bag, which packet dropped to the floor when she pulled her handkerchief out, without touching it (no fingerprints on it). Victor acted as a waiter, to drop the poison in the champagne during the show. He was taken at New York at the request of the police.
- 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
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 1945. The first instalment carried an uncredited illustration.
Remembered Death – First Edition Book Identification Guide
The books are listed in the order of publication. While the majority of Agatha Christie’s books were first published in the UK. There are many titles that were first published in the US. The title of the book may differs from the UK edition in some cases.
|Year||Title||Publisher||First edition/printing identification points|
|1945||Remembered Death||Dodd, Mead & Co, NY, 1945||First edition. Date on the title & copyright page matches. No statement of later printings. Brown cloth lettered in red. Price $2.00.|
|1945||Sparkling Cyanide||William Collins & Sons, London, ||First English edition. "1945" on single line stated on the copyright page. No statement of later printings. Red cloth lettered in black. Price 8/6.|
Note about Book Club Editions (BCE) and reprints:
UK: You can see statements of later reprint dates or of book club on the copyright page.
US: The US reprint publishers usually use the same sheets as the first edition and are harder to identify by looking at the title page or the copyright page. One may identify a BCE by looking at the DJ, which doesn’t have a price on top of the front flap and a “Book Club Edition” imprint at the bottom. If the dust jacked is clipped at both the top/bottom of the front flap. You can safely assume it’s a BCE . If the book is missing the dust jacket. Later BCE editions can be identified by its plain boards, while first printings are issued in quarter cloth.
Please refer to the gallery for detailed images of true first edition bindings and dust jackets.
Remembered Death – First Edition Dust Jacket Identification Guide
First edition bindings and various dust jacket printings identification.