This is an excellent read, the sort of book that would hold your interest on a long and tiring flight or at the dentist if he's a couple of hours late. Dorothy Kingship has fallen for a young man and is pregnant by him. For him, this is very bad news - he is much less innocent than he seems and his motives in pursuing Dorothy are entirely selfish. What to do? He forms a plan and carries it out. As the book moves on, Dorothy's two sisters, Ellen and Marion, become involved. There are plots and danger and quite a number of surprises, one of which I absolutely could not have predicted. With this kind of book, which is a murder mystery, I cannot be more specific about the plot - plot is everything here - but it is pacily written, very easy to read, and nicely recreates the world of post-War USA (it was written in 1952), where, for example, Ellen is startled and concerned when her date, who is strapped for cash, forks out a whole $18 for dinner for two! Levin does not pull punches (he wrote 'Rosemary's Baby', after all) and some of the events are nasty, but then, that's as you would expect it to be. Good fun, this - recommended.
on 9 July 2011
Probably one of the best thrillers I have ever read, and I only wish I hadn't taken quite so many years to get around to it. The killer twist (pardon the pun) is how long it takes before the murderer's identity is revealed, so if you haven't yet read the plot summary on the Amazon page - don't!
A well constructed story, very well told, and it thunders along so that even when you do find out whodunnit you will still be gripped.
The title 'A Kiss Before Dying' conjures up, for me, an image of a 1950s pulp thriller with a fabulous, stylish cover featuring a woman who looks like the hourglassy one from Mad Men and a man in a fedora concealing a gun. And indeed, that's pretty much exactly what A Kiss Before Dying is, on the face of it - it's a crime novel published in 1953 about a handsome psychopath who preys upon a series of rich young women in a bid to secure a stake in their father's fortune.
And yet, while A Kiss Before Dying, by the late Ira Levin, has all the signature style and undeniable glamour of a somewhat noirish American thriller, not to mention a characteristically sensationalist plot, there's plenty to set it apart.
The story begins with an unnamed young man plotting the death of his fiancée, Dorothy Kingship - a pretty, rich, naive college student. Having planned to marry her to get his hands on some of her father's money, he's furious to learn that she's pregnant. This being somewhere around 1950, this seems likely to force them to marry immediately and incur the wrath of Dorothy's father, who will almost certainly disinherit her as a result, leaving the nameless protagonist poorer than ever and saddled with a wife and child he never wanted as well as ruining his master-plan. Consequently, when pills from a backstreet abortionist fail to work their magic, the only alternative, he feels, is murder.
It's chilling, tense and (like the much-maligned and underrated 1950s shocker, Peyton Place) remarkably evocative of its time and setting. And it's a decent enough thriller plot, of course. All pretty straightforward...
But then, Levin pulls a particularly clever trick. He switches the novel's point of view. Suddenly, we're in the position of Ellen Kingship, trying to discover who has wronged her younger sister. All she knows is that she has to look for a handsome, charming blond college boy in his mid-20s (his academic career having been interrupted by World War II, of course). There are a number of contenders. And it could be any of them. Terrifyingly, any of these affable, bright, all-American boys Ellen meets could have the mind of a psychopathic killer - a mind into which we, as readers, already have a horrific insight.
Those familiar with Ira Levin's best-known works - Rosemary's Baby, The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives, all of which became immensely successful films - will know that his books tend to stretch plausibility a little, and yes, A Kiss Before Dying does this too. But somehow, it's all so neatly plotted in every detail, with every character so absolutely spot-on for the roles they have to play in the story, that I found myself believing every word. It may be pulp-influenced at times, and at times it's a wee bit overblown, but the writing is so sharp that it simply doesn't matter, and Levin has been astute in building his characters convincingly to give them credible motivation.
As in his other books that I mentioned, Levin uses A Kiss Before Dying to tug at a sinister, dysfunctional thread that unravels the fragile tapestry of a classic American setting to reveal a dark, calculating cruelty lying beneath. Nobody and nothing are what they seem in Levin's novels, and reading this book is like stepping into the world of a stylish Hitchcock film full of beautiful women, fabulous outfits, ever-building tension, surprise plot twists and ambiguously charming men who may or may not be calculating killers.
on 27 September 2013
I was tempted to read The Stepford Wives because of the two great movies based on it and in looking at reviews for that was surprised to discover that Ira Levin had also written the Boys From Brazil and Rosemary's Baby, among others. That seemed an eclectic mix, so I decided to start with this, which was his first novel. The plot is really ingenious and builds the tension with what starts as a callous murder, moves on to a detective story, then the revelation of the murderer, and finally a race to prevent the murderer's plan from being achieved. For me this was very close to being a five star read, certainly the first three quarters of the book merited that, but as it reaches the conclusion, the pace seems to slow, there is excessive descriptive prose and the final denouement is fairly obvious from a couple of chapters out. So, a very enjoyable read, I would certainly recommend it to fans of the genre and I will certainly read more of this author, but for me it's just short of top rating.
It's always good to discover a new author and once again Kindle has come up trumps with this reissued thriller from the fifties. I'd been aware of the author's work through the films of his novels - The Stepford Wives, Rosemary's Baby, Marathon Man - so I knew that he was a great writer and this is a really good read. It must have been brilliant to read it when it first came out as it is very exciting and I think seems as though it was well ahead of its time. I love how the identity of the killer is kept from us (shame on the brief resume given by Amazon on this site which gives this away!) and the denouement is genuinely terrifying. For me as a reader in the 21st century though, the three girls are almost unbearably naive and trusting towards the killer and so the plot was perhaps a little flawed in this respect. I accept however that this might just be me though and that girls then may have been more trusting than they are now. This aside, I loved the book and I'll be downloading more (though Rosemary's Baby will stay firmly in the Amazon store as I really don't like anything that hints of the supernatural). I'm also going to check out whether A kiss before dying has been made into a film. If it hasn't, it should be!
When people mention Ira Levin's novels they always remember "Rosemary's Baby", "The Stepford Wives", and "The Boys From Brazil", but this book is often overlooked. Until I'd read it myself I knew nothing of the story, unlike the others, so I was pleasantly surprised by just how good it is.
The book is a thriller and as the introduction says is basically the story of the worst boyfriend ever. In the opening section we follow a man as he courts a woman, but when she reveals she is pregnant he tries to make her have an abortion, but when she disagrees he decides to kill her instead, and we see things through his eyes. It's a chilling, compelling opening. The rest of the book sees events from the perspective of women as they meet a wonderful man, but all is not as it seems. As the novel progresses we discover that the women are related, and the man is the same person we had met in the opening. What is he doing? What will happen next?
It's a fantastic page-turner with some shocking scenes and a memorable ending. I'm amazed I'd not heard of it sooner, but I'll remember it for a long, long time. In some ways I enjoyed this more than Levin's other work. A great read.