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Literature / Sparkling Cyanide

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Sparkling Cyanide (published in the US as Remembered Death) is a 1945 novel by Agatha Christie. It was developed from an earlier Hercule Poirot short story, The Yellow Iris, but the novel doesn't feature the famous Belgian detective – it does, however, feature his friend Colonel Race in the latter's last appearance in Christie's books.

The beautiful and ditzy Rosemary Barton dies of cyanide poisoning during her own birthday party, and the inquest concludes it's suicide. One year passes, and the six people from the party – Rosemary's younger sister Iris Marle, her widower George Barton, George's secretary Ruth Lessing, Rosemary's admirers Anthony Browne and Stephen Farraday and Stephen's wife Lady Sandra – still feel haunted by Rosemary's shadow. And then, George gets two anonymous letters that state that his wife was, in fact, murdered. He decides to begin his own investigation, which quickly gets out of hand as another crime is committed.

The novel has had two loose TV adaptations in 1983 and 2003, as well as a BBC Radio 4 adaptation in 2012.

Tropes featured in the novel:

  • Adaptational Heroism: The victim's widowed husband is the murderer in the short story and a completely innocent, good-natured Unwitting Pawn in the novel.
  • Affair Letters: George discovers Rosemary is having a serious affair after reading what's left on her blotting paper since she has hidden the actual letters.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Rosemary calls her lover Leopard and he calls her his Black Beauty.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys:
    • Iris falls head over heels for the charming and mysterious Anthony, though she senses an air of danger about him, his own point-of-view chapter reveals he has a criminal past, and many people are very worried he has his sights set on Iris's money. Subverted, he is revealed to be Good All Along (the criminal past was him infiltrating the saboteurs' organization he hunted down), he really adores Iris and he doesn't care for the money.
    • Victor Drake is incredibly attractive, and even the proper and level-headed Ruth Lessing admits to feeling his charm. So much that she falls deeply in love with him, and he easily manipulates her to commit murder.
  • Aloof Big Sister: Iris muses on how she never really knew Rosemary and hardly interacted with her, and Rosemary usually barely noticed Iris was there.
  • Anger Born of Worry: When Rosemary says she knows about Anthony Browne's criminal past, the latter gets outraged and threatens her. That's because they are worried for her, since her carelessness about admitting such things can land her into huge trouble.
  • Betty and Veronica: Good, reliable, soft-hearted George vs. bad boy Victor for Ruth Lessing. Consciously, she understands George is better for her but she can't resist Victor.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Anthony, Race and Kemp rush in just barely in time to drag Iris away from the gas stove.
  • Brainless Beauty: Rosemary is strikingly beautiful but lacking in intelligence or wit. That leads to both Stephen and Anthony getting tired of her pretty quickly.
  • Chick Magnet: Stephen Farraday of all people. Though many people believe him a stuck-up bore, both Rosemary and Sandra are obsessively in love with him.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Lady Sandra is extremely jealous and possessive, which you wouldn’t suspect by looking at her. She develops an intense hatred of Rosemary for having an affair with Stephen and is determined to never let her husband go.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: George Barton realizes he is this, to his own astonishment. He is ready for his wife's flirtations with other men, but the moment he senses a serious affair, he feels like Othello.
  • Died on Their Birthday: Rosemary Barton dies of cyanide poisoning during her own birthday party.
  • Doting Parent: Lucilla Drake, after giving birth at around forty and getting widowed shortly thereafter, becomes this to extremes. She spoils Victor rotten and refuses to believe he is anything but a sweet, loving son, mistreated and misunderstood by everybody else.
  • Dumb Blonde: Subverted with one of the witnesses, Christine Shannon, who turns out to be amazingly perceptive and observant. Lampshaded by Anthony when he mentions her as a "not so dumb blonde".
  • Face–Heel Turn: Ruth Lessing turns into a coldblooded killer over a short time thanks to Victor Drake's influence. They feel it, at least at first, and struggle with their conscience.
    Anthony: Moral: every murderess was a nice girl once.
  • Fire and Ice Love Triangle: Stephen believes himself to be in the middle of one, between the passionate and impulsive Rosemary and the aloof and proud Sandra. Subverted, as it's revealed Sandra is just as passionate as Rosemary (if not more), she is just very good at hiding it.
  • Floral Theme Naming: Rosemary and Iris.
  • Good All Along: Anthony Browne, after spending most of the novel as its most suspicious character, not only turns out to be innocent, but becomes the one to solve the case.
  • Hereditary Suicide: The initial plan of the murderers is to make Iris Marle's death look like suicide so that the police would think suicide runs in the family, as the murder of Iris's sister took place the previous year on the exact same day and successfully passed off as suicide. Due to a Spanner in the Works, however, the plan fails and another person gets murdered, whose death is clearly not a suicide.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Paul Bennett had been in love with Viola Marle and remained her friend when she married another man. He became Rosemary's godfather and left her all his money.
  • Insult of Endearment: Anthony sometimes affectionately calls Iris "idiot".
  • Love at First Sight: Zig-zagged with Stephen Farraday (who, ironically, considers himself to be as distant from romance and sex as possible).
    • Stephen tells Sandra he fell in love with her the moment he saw her. As he is a talented politician but with no connections or money and she comes from a rich and influential family, she isn't fooled.
    • Then Stephen really does fall in love with Rosemary Barton at first sight from across the room. It gets deconstructed as he eventually realizes there is nothing memorable about her beyond her looks and they have nothing in common.
  • Love Epiphany: Played straight twice.
    • When Stephen Farraday is appalled at the prospect of divorce, it suddenly dawns on him that losing Sandra would be the worst of consequences. This is the moment when he understands Rosemary really means nothing to him.
    • Anthony Browne, after a particularly exhausting argument with Rosemary, realizes he has really fallen in love with her sister.
  • Mama Bear: Usually Sandra might be her least favorite child, but the moment Lady Kidderminster feels she could be in danger, she is ready to fight for her tooth and nail, even demanding her husband break the law to defend her if need be.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Several different people comment that they can feel Rosemary's ghost hanging about, and there are one or two subtle, but odd hints that it might be true, but it's never made explicit. In the end, Tony suggests she was trying to protect Iris from being murdered in her turn.
  • Meal Ticket:
    • Stephen Farraday marries Lady Sandra Hayle mainly to ensure her family's support in his career, and it's pretty obvious to her, but she is so much in love she is content to be desired even for that. Their marriage isn't the worst one, since they make an excellent team and she is his most loyal adviser and friend. And then he realizes he's in love with her as well.
    • Christine Shannon puts up with an ugly and boring boyfriend because he gives her valuable jewels and takes her out to expensive restaurants. She makes no secret of the fact when telling the investigation about it. Ironically, said boyfriend is the murderer and intends to use Ruth as a Meal Ticket by getting her to murder the people in the way of the Bennett inheritance.
    • George warns Iris that since she has inherited Rosemary's fortune, Anthony Browne can be using her as that. Then Inspector Kemp and Colonel Race find out that Anthony has constantly avoided meeting Iris's family while at the same time trying to convince her to elope with him. It's revealed he genuinely loves Iris, and in case the readers have any doubt left, in the ending he says he has enough money of his own and cheerfully suggests to spend the entire fortune on charity.
  • Meaningful Name: Played with.
    • Rosemary's name becomes significant only after her death, as rosemary symbolizes remembrance.
    • Victor Drake comments on the inversion of this trope in the case of Ruth, who is quite ruthless.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Discussed as a possible motive for Rosemary's murder, either for Ruth Lessing who secretly pines for George or for Sandra Farraday who is madly jealous of her husband. Turns out Ruth did it, but not for George's sake.
  • Never Suicide: Rosemary's death is made to look like suicide and is accepted as one initially. Iris's murder is also staged to look like suicide, but the plan fails both times – the first time, when she accidentally takes the wrong seat and George dies instead, which, everybody realizes, is clearly murder, the second time, when Anthony, Race and Kemp manage to rescue her.
  • Oblivious to Love:
    • Stephen Farraday is blissfully oblivious both to his wife's feelings about him and his own about her.
    • Inverted with Rosemary who never understands that Stephen is over her.
  • Sarcastic Confession: When Colonel Race comes to confront Anthony about the latter's criminal past and very suspicious behavior in the present, Anthony hears out all the facts and, before Race can come to a conclusion, does a sarcastic summation himself: he killed Rosemary for finding out about his past, then he killed George for getting suspicious and now he is after Iris's fortune. Subverted, as he adds there is not an ounce of proof. And a moment later, he reveals himself as Good All Along.
  • Settle for Sibling: Iris worries she is this for Anthony, who made no secret of his relationship with Rosemary. Anthony assures her that he was only briefly in love with her sister and the feeling lacked any depth, unlike what he feels for Iris. He is telling the truth.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Rosemary Barton, the dashing and silly society beauty. Iris Marle, less pretty, more quiet and withdrawn, but with the intelligence and character Rosemary lacks.
  • Spanner in the Works: The perfect murder plan gets foiled because of a random sixteen-year-old waiter putting a handbag by the wrong chair.
  • Tranquil Fury: Sandra Farraday and Ruth Lessing act nice and polite with Rosemary while wishing her dead in their hearts.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The fat and bumbling George and the beautiful Rosemary.
  • The Unfavorite:
    • Iris spends most of her life overshadowed by the older and prettier Rosemary in her mother's eyes. Even Paul Bennett leaves his fortune to Rosemary, only stipulating it passes to Iris in the event of Rosemary dying childless.
    • Lady Sandra, the third daughter out of five and the plainest one in the family, is considered the most difficult child by her mother. However, her parents are still ready to support and protect her as much as they can.
  • Unknowingly in Love: Stephen Farraday doesn't realise that he has long been in love with Sandra, his Meal Ticket wife, until his lover Rosemary starts nagging him to get a divorce. He later admits he was so sure he married Sandra for her money and position that he didn't allow himself to think otherwise.

Tropes specific to the 1983 adaptation:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Iris is as beautiful as Rosemary and only manages to stay in her shadow by wearing less brightly-colored makeup and less revealing dresses.
  • Adaptational Intelligence:
    • Lucilla Drake is made much less ditzy to make her a plausible murder suspect.
    • Iris is older than in the book and therefore much more savvy. In particular, she is way more cautious about trusting Anthony, unlike her book self who is swept off her feet and only balks at the suggestion of elopement.
    • The police aren't satisfied with the suicide theory of Rosemary's death.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy:
    • Sandra is friendlier and more open, and is actually Iris's best friend.
    • Lucilla Drake is friendlier with Ruth and sympathetic towards her feelings for George.
    • Rosemary and Iris are a lot closer than in the book (it helps that the contrast between them is blurred). In particular, the book scene with Rosemary's bragging about knowing about Anthony's ties with criminals is entirely changed: here, she says it as a warning since she is afraid for her sister.
  • Age Lift: Iris's age isn't specified, but she is played by 30-year-old Deborah Raffin and is clearly older than her book counterpart who hasn't even hit twenty-one.
  • Composite Character: Lord Kidderminster and Colonel Race are merged into Erik Kidderminster.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: While they have less difference in beauty, the distinction between them when it comes to brains is enhanced. Rosemary only cares for having fun while Iris is hard-working.
  • Mythology Gag: In the beginning Iris returns from a business trip to England and complains of how horrible English coffee tastes. It's a nod to Anthony's hatred of English coffee in the book – he finds it so awful he suggests they use Iris's fortune to remedy the situation.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: A lot of the backstory is understandably left out of the movie.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Inverted twice.
    • In the book, Anthony admits to having briefly been in love with Rosemary, while here, he only flirts with her to get close to the Kidderminsters whom he's investigating.
    • In the book, Ruth Lessing is already crazy only about Victor Drake at the time Rosemary dies. Here, she poisons Rosemary to get George and only goes for Victor when it's clear George isn't interested.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Instead of being Viola Marle's Romantic Runner-Up, Paul Bennett is turned into Lucilla Drake's first husband.
  • Setting Update: The film takes place in California of the 1980s.

Alternative Title(s): Remembered Death