I picked up a copy of Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying for next to nothing in a recent Amazon Kindle sale. It was a member of an on-line book club who gave me the tip-off, and I’m really pleased that I acted on it. Ira Levin’s novels are probably overshadowed by the successful film versions of his work, such as The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby — A Kiss Before Dying has itself been turned into a film twice — so it was rather ironic that I soon formed the conclusion that A Kiss Before Dying came across, to me it seemed, almost like reading a Hitchcock film.
Possibly a little old fashioned, and without any of the gore and explicitness that seem par for the course these days, nevertheless it allows the story-telling and plot to carry the day. Something that one or two modern day crime writers and publishers might do well to take note of.
A small, perfectly formed, masterpiece of suspense.
Read on for a full review…
Without wanting to reveal too much of the plot (always tricky when reviewing a crime thriller), A Kiss Before Dying is basically one of those age old stories of the terrible boyfriend. This particular boyfriend however, does turn out to be rather more terrible than most. Even giving away the names of the main characters could potentially spoil the plot for you, so suffice to say that the story centres on a young man from a working class background, and the awful lengths he will go to to worm his way into a marriage of convenience for the sole purpose of getting rich quick.
Written in the nineteen-fifties, what sets this book apart from a good deal of modern crime thriller writing, is that it relies purely on the skills of the author to deliver suspense. There is none of the gratuitous violence and gory detail that readers appear to have come to expect from thrillers these days, and yet it still manages to work. In fact, to my mind I would say it actually works better, and has more clarity. It lets the story do the work.
Has this novel dated in any way? Well, yes and no is the answer to that. It is clearly “of its time”, and is very much in a fifties setting. The surroundings and some of the language used, do undoubtedy fix it in its period, but I don’t think the book is any the worse for that. Certainly if you are a fan of old black and white films – particularly Hitchcock – then I’m sure you will enjoy reading this.
A Kiss Before Dying received wide acclaim after it was published in 1953 – it earned Ira Levin an Edgar Award for Best First Novel – and it is easy to see why many people still regard it as a classic of its type; I would therefore say it should be recommended reading for all lovers of the crime thriller genre.
Already read A Kiss Before Dying? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.
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