©1953 Ira Levin (P)2011 AudioGO
I like Jack Reacher style characters regardless of setting. Put them in outer space, in modern America, in a military setting, on an alien planet... no worries. Book has non moralistic vigilante-justice? Sign me up! (oh, I read urban fantasy, soft and hard sci-fi, trashy vampire and zombie novels too)
I don't know what people expect when they read classic novels... Car chases and stuff blowing up and the main character having graphic sex and swearing every 2nd sentence? This is a classic, and has none of those things. What it does have, though, is suspense, tension, to the point writing, and a horrible key character. Pretty much exactly what you'd look for in a noir crime suspense novel.
It is written in 3 "sections", which makes sense once you realize what the main character is up to. Section 2 is definitely the most suspenseful and I found section 3 went on a bit too long - really, I didn't need a long description of the view of a smelter, followed by a walkthrough description of how a smelter worked, and so on... I guess the reason for all this detail comes clear at the end, but I don't think it was as much of a surprise ending as the author intended (which makes all this build up to an ending you expect a bit.... well... long winded).
The narration is very good and there is no sex, swearing or gore.
I don’t usually read crime or suspense novels, but I read this one because of its author’s reputation and the reputation of the novel itself. I’m glad I did. Nothing impresses me more than when an author can really surprise you. And Ira Levin really delivers in this suspense classic. That’s all I’ll say about surprises.
One of the reasons I usually don’t enjoy suspense novels is because they are, obviously, designed to make you tense. And, if you can’t keep reading, say because you have to go to work, then you remain in suspense. This book did keep me in suspense, but it was a fun ride, so no regrets.
I recommend this book, especially if you are a crime/suspense fan and would like to read an early example of top notch suspense writing.
I had never read this prior to listening to it and I was enthralled! This is so well written and such an exciting book! This book had my attention every moment and I enjoyed every minute. What a totally scary bad guy! The scariest part is that this kind of person could really exist. There is nothing more scary than a normal looking and sounding person who is really a horrible sociopath!! It didn't matter that it is set in the early 1950s. The story could just as easily be today.
It was a really great book! It's no wonder Ira Levin went on to be such a success!
St. Louis, Missouri
Which is strange because I don’t usually listen to books like this, preferring the crime fiction set in country houses with plenty of Daimlers and second footmen sprinkled about. But I devoured this one with relish. And I may do it again.
Yes, I know it’s a classic—but it’s one of those paradoxes called a “modern classic”. Usually, I prefer to invest my time in works that have stood the test of time. And, to be blunt, I eschew more modern works for the simple reason that many have been instrumental in establishing—or at least validating—the modern, attenuated, relativistic times in which we live. When in the market for murder I like my detectives to operate in a somewhat firmer moral universe. Of course I expect ambiguities; life is full of them so fiction should be, too. But start psychologizing away motives or blaming socio-economic conditions and you lose me. The modern craze for the anti-hero just ain’t my bag.
So when Audible made A Kiss Before Dying available as a Daily Deal, I hesitated. Wasn't this a harbinger of a genre that lent luster to the lurid? That glorified the grit? Isn’t it the story of a poor kid who’ll do anything just to get ahead?
Yes. But while we are shown the psychological and economic conditions that made murder possible, those conditions are never advanced as an excuse for our bad boy—not even by the bad boy himself. And he is indubitably bad. So much so that, near the end of the book, when you overhear his voice from another room your skin crawls. At least mine did.
Under the surface of the book there’s undoubtedly a hint of what would become more and more fashionable later on: a critique of “conventional” morality. It’s akin to the sort of critique that could be taken (and certainly was taken, by many in the last several decades) as “proof” of the bankruptcy of “conventional” morality. But, as Oscar Wilde said of A Picture of Dorian Grey, this story contains, “a moral which the prurient mind will not be able to find…but which will be revealed to all whose minds are healthy.”
Approached in that spirit, things begin to clarify. Save for the father’s moral strictures—anticipated by his daughter but never spoken by him—the whole mechanism of the tragedy might never have gotten underway. But as I said, the strictures are unspoken. We never know if they would have been. True, the father was a hard nut in the past, but there’s also the possibility that his daughter is jumping to conclusions when she says he will cut her off without a penny when he finds she has…done something I can’t say or I’ll ruin the book for you. And in the meantime you come to empathize with and even like the father. Reality, in other words, is far more nuanced than any straight-ahead sociological critique. As in the case of Wilde’s masterpiece, a novel about a sociopath need not glorify his disorder.
Then there’s the structure. This is simply one of the best-constructed stories I’ve ever listened to; I don't believe I've felt so much suspense since Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. What seems a minor detail at the beginning adds immeasurably to the crescendo at the end. The run-up to the first crime is pitted with so many false starts, where things could have gone differently (i.e.: better), as to make one a little squeamish. And the real bombshell, the thing that makes you go prickly all over, occurs in the second third of the book. That’s when you realize Levin has pulled a masterful fast one on you and all you can do is admire his dexterity.
The writing—the way sentences and images are crafted—is superb. A burst of tropical birdsong is likened to the flutter of multi-colored playing cards tossed in the sun. The description of a copper smelting works verges on a sort of Walt-Whitman-esque poetry. The story moves like a smartly edited movie. And perhaps best of all, Levin writes with what Stephen King has called a dry wit. Completely different from, let’s say, a Campion or Lord Peter story, but still wit enough to leaven the tension. No pun intended.
Our narrator, Mauro Hantman, was the right pick for this story. Much of it takes place inside our bad boy’s head, and there Hantman is spot-on. During dialogue between characters—especially male characters—I needed to concentrate sometimes to keep them separate (not unusual in audiobooks, no matter how well-performed). But overall and end-to-end, he does a superb job; it is one of those happy instances where the tone of the writing coincides perfectly with the tone of the reader’s voice.
Audio addict with my best friend, an ear-bud.
Beautifully read with great characterization and pacing. Thrilling brain teaser and psychologically challenging. Highly recommended.
If at first you don't succeed, get rid of the girl and move on to the next sister.
A Kiss Before Dying is a taut little thriller about a sociopath who conceives an ingenuous plan to seduce the daughter of a wealthy copper baron. Except she goes and gets pregnant before his plan can come to fruition. Since Daddy is the moralistic disinheriting type, he figures a kid before they are properly married and he's had time to work his charms and soften the old man up will just ruin everything. When he can't persuade her to get rid of it, he's left with only one option - a well-planned murder in which he manages to make it look like a suicide, and then avoid any connection between him and the dead girl.
Which allows him to move on to daughter #2.
But daughter #2 proves a little too intuitive — she starts putting clues together and realizing her sister didn't commit suicide, and wants to find out who murdered her. She figures everything out just a little too late.
And our boy, as long on audacity as he is short on scruples, decides third time's the charm: the rich industrialist had three daughters, and after all that research he did to seduce the first two, he knows the oldest sister pretty well...
As improbable as this story may sound, I couldn't really spot any plot holes. Sure, our protagonist needed a bit of luck here and there, but nothing so overwhelmingly coincidental as to be completely implausible. He's just a meticulous, cold-blooded schemer with a knack for manipulation.
A lot of people want books with "relocatable" protagonists. Well, the protagonist of this book is a murderous, gold-digging sociopath. You want him to trip up and get caught, and you want his victims to get away, and at the same time, the exciting part is finding out how he's going to get away with it.
This book is dated now — it was written in 1954 and it's set in the early fifties, so the campus life described, and the so-visible class distinctions are not the same as now, but that just makes this suspenseful novel a period piece as well. In fact, some of the period details are what made it interesting. For example, there is surprisingly little moralizing about the proposed abortion — she doesn't want to do it, but it seems more for emotional reasons than any real ethical or religious qualms. And it struck me that in some ways, the "boy from the wrong side of the tracks" was a thing that would be even harder to envision today — nowadays, we like to pretend that American society is less class-stratified, but that's because the rich are increasingly distant and out of sight. Working class people just don't socialize, at all, with the very wealthy, which makes it easier for us to pretend that there is no such thing as class.
Ira Levin also wrote other thrillers, like Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, and with this pacey, suspenseful novel, it's easy to see how readily his stories became a part of pop culture. Definitely worth reading, and motivated me to read more by him someday.
I am a lover of history and the fantastic tales of human achievement (or folly). Sometimes, a grand author captures my imagination.
I had sorely missed reading a good crime novel for ages. Some list recommended this as a worthy read and I was intrigued by the Author. I had not known of Ira Levin and many of his writings that were turned into major motion pictures. Someone wrote that this novel, the first from Levin, is his Magnum opus
Certainly the character of Bud Corliss, a certified psychopath is an intriguing invention. As you read through the pages, you can feel the drive of this individual to attain the one thing he lacks; money, fame and social standing. He will do anything to attain his goals including outright murder. He feels nothing for his victims as he calculatingly removes his obstacles.
This is not a mystery novel but a true, fast paced, crime story. It is beautifully written and keeps you well engaged until the last page is turned. I really enjoyed this book and thoroughly recommend it.
Don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Trip's cool though. Use Audible to make gym-training sane... And rip my imagination.
Written in the early 50s and this novel is both interesting yet flat because of its moment. It was a time when the techniques of pace had not yet been fully developed. Perhaps because there's so much competition for scarce leisure time, crime fiction writers have learned fast cuts, rapid panning, quick dialogue, and pace... pace... pace.... This is also the work of a very young and new writer at the time. But... but... it's a note perfect trip to a time of nickel juke boxes, women who smoked Benson & Hedges, and fedoras. Levin's late talent was glimmering through his construction of a moment just before the memory of many. I was not impressed with Mauro Hantman's thin voice. Distracting.
On balance... can't recommend the book.
Master of storytelling, It's an exciting read. Rosemary's baby is the most popular but A Kiss Before Dying is the masterpiece.
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