Literature / Sad Cypress

"Come away, come away, death, and in sad cypress let me be laid; fly away, fly away, breath; I am slain by a fair cruel maid. My shroud of white, stuck all with yew- oh, prepare it! My part of death- noone so true did share it."
Twelfth Night, Act II Scene IV (novel's epigraph)

"Mrs Welman, whose money went to Elinor Carlisle, was murdered by morphine; Mary Gerrard, who stood between Elinor Carlisle and her fiance, was murdered by morphine. And nobody in the world had the slightest motive to commit these murders other than the accused; no one had the slightest opportunity other than the accused."
Prosecuting attorney, Sad Cypress (TV adaptation)

Murder mystery novel by Agatha Christie. Elinor Carlisle seems to be the only possible suspect for the murders of her wealthy aunt, Laura Welman, and her romantic rival, Mary Gerrard. However, doctor Peter Lord, who is in love with Elinor, asks Hercule Poirot to clear her name, insisting she can't be guilty, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Hercule Poirot points out that there's an extremely strong case against her, but still he agrees to investigate the case and find out the truth.

The novel opens with a prologue where we get to see part of Elinor's trial and follow some of her thoughts, and proceeds with a series of flashbacks which tell the story in three parts. It contains Courtroom Drama; it's one of the two times Christie used the lovely-woman-in-the-docks plot (the other being Five Little Pigs, to a much lesser extent.) Interestingly, instead of having a Summation Gathering, the solution is presented at court at the end of the book. The novel has been criticized for its abrupt ending and lack of plausible suspects, but it has received positive reviews as a suspenseful and well-written detective story.

The novel has been adapted for radio in 1992 by BBC Radio 4 with John Moffat as Poirot. It has also been adapted for TV by London Weekend Television as part of the Poirot series in 2003 starring David Suchet as Poirot and Elizabeth Dermot-Walsh as Elinor Carlisle.

Warning: unconcealed spoilers ahead.

Sad Cypress contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the original novel, Elinor's innocence is proved at court thanks to the clues gathered by Poirot. However, in the adaptation, Elinor is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged in five days after her appeal is denied. Poirot does manage to acquit her, but it's much more angsty that way.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Dr. Lord is in love with Elinor, who's in love with Roddy. Roddy is fond of Elinor but has fallen head-over-heels for Mary Gerrard. Mary finds Roddy's attentions annoying and keeps telling him to go back to Elinor. Meanwhile, Mary has Ted, her boyfriend in the village. She likes him but has ambitions that are likely to take her away from him. (However, after about two hundred and fifty pages of this, a subversion is implied in the end with Elinor and Dr Lord. D'aw.)
    • The 2003 adaptation simplifies matters: Lord is still in love with Elinor, who's still in love with Roddy, but Mary apparently reciprocates Roddy's feelings and it's implied that the two are to be married. This gives Elinor increased reasons to not be incredibly fond of Mary and to desire her murder.
  • Asshole Victim: Averted. Both Laura Welman and Mary Gerrard are sympathetic characters, Mary verging on the angelic. The main reason Elinor is accused apart from the evidence, is that nobody else would even seem to have a motive for killing such nice people in the first place.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: In the 2003 adaptation at least, it's a bit ambiguous whether Mary is as sweet and innocent as she seems or whether she is subtly manipulating everyone to her own advantage. Elinor certainly seems to think so, but seeing as Roddy left her for Mary she's hardly an unbiased source.
  • The Butler Did It: No, seriously. Well, not an actual butler, but still.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Elinor and Roddy.
  • Clear Their Name: Poirot is hired by Peter Lord to prove that Elinor is innocent. Although skeptical in light of the clear evidence against Elinor, Poirot's investigations do eventually lead him to become convinced of her innocence.
  • Courtroom Drama: A rarity in the works of Agatha Christie, in which we see the trial of an alleged killer.
  • Emotionless Girl: Roddy thinks (read: deludes himself) that Elinor is this, when in fact her feelings for him are much stronger/more passionate than his for her.
  • Frameup: Peter Lord is convinced this is happening to Elinor. He turns out to be right.
  • Funny Foreigner: More so than in other Poirot books. He has to fake an interest in the royal family to get one of the villagers to talk to him.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Miss Carlisle is not above this.
  • Happy Flashback: Lampshaded in the movie; in the opening scene, Elinor is in the courtroom and the last of her thought we get to hear is: "The beginning... the beginning... it seemed happy..."
  • Hooked Up Afterwards: Implied.
  • How We Got Here: Evolves after the Happy Flashback.
  • I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: Mary towards Roddy.
  • I Gave My Word: Elinor promised her aunt Laura that she would see to it that a provision was made for Mary Gerrard in Laura's will. When Aunt Laura died before she could write a will, Elinor made sure that a suitable amount of money was given to Mary.
  • Inheritance Murder: This is the obvious motive for Elinor Carlisle to have committed the murder she's accused of. Naturally, the relationships in play turn out to be more complicated. However, in the end, this is actually the motive... just several steps more removed.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: While still deeply in love with him, Elinor breaks up with Roddy and gives him relationship advice about Mary.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In the 2003 adaptation. While Nurse O'Brian is a poisonous gossip with a seemingly unwarranted grudge against Elinor, when Mary gripes that Elinor didn't seem entirely thrilled to be giving Mary a large sum of money from her aunt's inheritance O'Brian points out that any hostility on Elinor's part might have something to do with the fact that Mary basically stole Elinor's fiancÚ away from her.
  • Karma Houdini: In the novel, at least. Nurse Hopkins flees the trial when it looks like her scheme is about to be exposed. The 2003 adaptation makes sure that Karma catches up with the killer eventually, however.
  • Kissing Cousins: Though not related by blood, Elinor is the daughter of Laura Welman's brother, while Roddy was the nephew of her late husband, and the two were raised as cousins. Roddy lampshades this by pointing out that they have all the advantages of being cousins without the potential downsides of a blood relationship.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Peter Lord. Just listen to him.
    "Does it matter? She might have done it, yes! I don't care if she did. [...] But I don't want her hanged, I tell you! Suppose she was driven desperate? [...] Haven't you got any pity?"
    • Also true of Elinor's love for Roddy and implied about Mrs. Welman's experiences. The one thing love definitely does not make anyone in this book is happy.
    • Taken further in the Poirot adaptation, in which Dr. Lord's devotion to Elinor leads him to take actions in her defence that briefly make him seem like he's the actual murderer. It's also heavily implied that Elinor actually was planning to murder Mary after her heart was broken, only to come to her senses before she could pull it off. Unfortunately for Elinor, someone else was also gunning for Mary and didn't have such a strong conscience...
  • Love Triangle: Elinor loves Roddy who falls for Mary (who is seeing Ted, but it's implicated that there's no future there).
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: The revelation that Mary isn't actually Gerrard's daughter. Followed by the revelation that she is Mrs. Welman's daughter. And that the nurse is actually Mary's aunt.
  • Mercy Kill: One potential motive given for why Elinor might have killed her aunt; she knew that her aunt wouldn't have wanted to live crippled by the second stroke.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Strictly speaking, that's only in the adaptation, since Elinor is found not guilty in the book. However, according to her housekeeper, Mrs Bishop, even her arrest is "disgraceful", probably the result of "these new-fangled methods of the police".
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Elinor is suspected of this.
  • Never One Murder
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Mrs Bishop lectures Poirot about respecting the dead and how she can not possibly judge the dead Mary Gerrard, but then she somehow manages to make him understand exactly what she thought of her.
  • Not So Stoic: Elinor is initially portrayed as a stoic, unemotional ice queen, but as she and Roddy are characterised in more detail it becomes clear that she is actually the more caring and emotional of the two.
  • Plot Hole: If Nurse Hopkins wanted to murder Mary and frame Elinor for the murder, then it doesn't make sense to offer the poisoned tea to Elinor as well; Elinor would have died, too, which would have been extremely risky and there would have been no one to frame. The TV adaptation gets around this by having Elinor state that she doesn't like tea, and hence wouldn't be drinking it anyway.
    • Not impossible to recover from this mistake if she had enough of the apomorphine hydrochloride, an emetic. Then she could say "We had some bad food— it's a good thing I had this vomit-inducing drug!" and try again. It wouldn't be her first murder.
  • Pull the Thread: Poirot is set on the right path when a character tells a seemingly pointless lie.
  • Rock Bottom: When Poirot warns Dr. Lord that he will reveal any evidence he finds in the investigation, even if it makes the case against Elinor look worse, Dr. Lord informs him that the case against Elinor can't possibly get any worse.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Roddy's reaction to meeting up with Mary Gerrard.
  • Shout-Out: To Shakespeare: This title is taken from the Clown's song from Twelfth Night (II, iv), as stated in the above quote.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback
  • Wrong Guy First: Elinor is passionately in love with Roddy, and the two are initially engaged, but he neither loves her as intensely as she does and, in many ways, doesn't quite deserve her love. The ending implies that Elinor will eventually find love and happiness with Peter Lord, the loyal doctor who has constantly admired and defended her from afar.