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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; noone 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. 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.)
  • Asshole Victim: Subverted. 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.
  • The Butler Did It: No, seriously. Well, not an actual butler, but still.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Elinor and Roddy.
  • Clear Their Name
  • Courtroom Drama
  • 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
  • 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 Didnt 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.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini
  • 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.
  • 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 its easy to say "We had some bad food its a good think I had this vomit inducing drug." then she can 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.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback
Death on the NileCreator/Agatha ChristieEvil Under the Sun
Red PlanetLiterature of the 1940sScanners Live in Vain
Rumpole of the BaileyLaw ProceduralShark
Death on the NileLiterature/Hercule PoirotEvil Under the Sun
Peril at End HouseMystery LiteratureHilary Tamar

alternative title(s): Sad Cypress
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