©1953 Ira Levin (P)2011 AudioGO
I've read this book several times -- never seen either of the film adaptations -- so I knew the story well. I thought it would be fun to have someone read it to me for a change.
It was. I loved the introduction at the beginning -- told a little bit about the book when it was published in 1953, when Ira Levin was just 23 years old, about how it was received back then. That set the stage.
Suffice it to say that the audible version is a total delight, doesn't disappoint in the slightest. It's stood the test of time very well -- nothing in it is old, everything could happen just as easily today as it did back them.
Most fascinating was thinking about the mind of the author, Ira Levin-- how he could come up with this innovative plot, then move on to works like 'Deathtrap', surely one of the most pleasantly confounding plays ever produced. Then to move on to the Nazi thriller, 'The Boys from Brazil' then 'Rosemary's Baby' -- a very different genre.. After that, 'Sliver' -- also outstanding -- and 'The Stepford Wives', a classic in its own right And all this from an author who's first produced play was the comedy "No Time for Sergeants"!
I've loved every one of Levin's books for different reasons. I'm so happy the Audible made "A Kiss Before Dying" available in audio, and hope that both 'Sliver' -- which is much like 'Kiss' in many ways -- and "The Stepford Wives" will be available soon, too. Although the film version of that, starring Katherine Ross and Tine Louise, of all people, was very good, it doesn't compare to the written version. Levin's books are really are classics, all of them. I know I'll listen to "Kiss" again and again. It's just a very very good book.
Ira Levin is best known for his horror and thriller tales from the 1960s and '70s, including Rosemary's Baby and the Stepford Wives--both undoubted classics. This book from the 1950s should be far better known that it is, because it is the equal of his later work, but in the more standard genre of mystery. Levin is a magnificent plotter, and I guarantee you will not have foreseen some of the twists he provides here. But beyond that, he manages to make you care about all the characters, good and bad. I cannot provide much detail without giving away some of the surprises, but believe me that for a novel in the mystery/thriller vein, you could not do better than A Kiss Before Dying. In addition, this narrator, who is new to me, does a wonderful job of providing distinctive but not distracting voicing for each character. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
The Dragon Mother
This book was originally written in 1953 and I have really started taking a liking to these old mystery novels. It is not the same as a novel written today in where the setting is in the 1950s, but an actual novel written during that timeframe thinks nothing of mentioning smoking in college classrooms, the jukebox on the table at your favorite coffee shop, or the folded handkerchief that gentleman would offer ladies who were crying. You just gotta love those little details.
This story was clever masterpiece of mystery and suspense. Our young protagonist is a gentleman determined to make it big by marrying big. He tries to find young ladies who are daughters of wealthy families to date. He woos them carefully, so if the relationship doesn’t work out, he can move on without alerting other young ladies that he is dating girls for their potential to make him rich. He thinks he has found the perfect girl in Dorothy.
All is going well until Dorothy turns up pregnant. Then he sees all of his carefully laid plans start to go down the drain. He can’t just dump her, that wouldn’t look good. He can’t marry her because her father would disown her because of the unplanned pregnancy. Then he wouldn’t get any money and they would have to live in poverty. But if she were to suffer an ‘accident’ then he would be off the hook and could continue dating again.
Now it seems like he has gotten away with the perfect crime … or has he? One of Dorothy’s sisters gets involved and starts asking questions and he begins to feel threatened by her discoveries. If she finds out too much, he might go to jail and never get rich. Maybe she should have an ‘accident’ too before she discovers too much.
Overall this was a great little mystery / suspense story. Even though you know who killed Dorothy there were many, many more twists and turns in this book. Enough to keep you going full speed ahead until you see the light. It was a very satisfying read.
The Narration Review
This audiobook was narrated by Hauro Hantman. He has a nice, clear, and soft spoken voice. He was very easy to listen to and he had a calming effect. Definitely a voice you can listen to while relaxing. There were a few times in the story where the juke box was playing and instead of just reading the lyrics, Hauro sang the tunes. I discovered that Hauro has a very pleasant singing voice, too!
Audible has changed my life! Dry , itchy eyes were destroying one of my greatest pleasures - reading. Now I am experiencing books again!
What fun to discover a classic that has not come my way before. Loved everything about this: the plot, the structure, and the narrator.
Levin's story is riveting, featuring a very believable bad guy with mind boggling self confidence and resourcefulness. The book is structured around three episodes, each one with memorable characters and building suspense, capped by surprise. And the narrator guides us well, bringing it all to life.
If I'd been reading this, I'm sure I'd have skipped ahead to find out the ending - love that that's a lot harder in Audible versions!
A KISS BEFORE DYING is an Edgar Award Winning classic mystery that, arguably, was the beginning of the modern psychological mystery thriller. This is a classic tale of murder for money, but it's the brazenness of the criminal that becomes the shocker.
Young handsome college student meets beautiful young coed. They plan to marry, but for all the wrong reasons. Our handsome hero is anything but the hero. We get to experience all of his thinking as he plans out his wonderful life that just need lots of money to be complete. Coming from a very poor background, what better way to use his brains and good looks, than to find the perfect rich wife. Only when complications arise, maybe she needs to dye. Maybe this happens one too many times!!
The build up of the plot through the killer's mind is done beautifully in this book. His "out there" reasoning is followed through from beginning to end in a book that constantly makes the reader want to warn the characters of impending danger throughout the story. Suspense is built to a tingling point more than once in this masterful psychological suspense. Many of Ira Levin's books were made into movies, but the book never reads like a movie script. Must read for anyone thinking of writing psychological suspense.
I don't want to spoil anything but I have to say that my mouth literally dropped open at a certain point in the story. I ran over and rewound my ipod just to make sure I heard what I thought I heard. Excellent example of a classic mystery.
I'm open to any book as long as it is true to itself.
This book is well-written and captures the time period very effectively. The events leading up to the conclusion were interesting with clear characters and description. However, I left the book feeling a little let down. The ending was not very clever and left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied. I read "Rosemary's Baby" and had really enjoyed that, but feel that this book had the potential to be better than it turned out to be.
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.
I can find a book to love in any genre -- a beautifully written classic, an interesting mystery or sci-fi, a trashy romance. Bring it!
STORY (suspense) - This book was written in the 1950s and has become a classic...and for good reason. As the summary suggests, it's about the murder of a young girl named Dorothy and has the added psychological component of allowing the listener into the killer's head as he plans the deed. But what the summary doesn't tell you is that that's just the beginning! There's much more that happens in this story. Wish I could give a hint but, since the summary didn't, I won't either.
The book is very well written, and the author uses an extensive vocabulary. I didn't use a dictionary because I still was able to understand everything, plus I didn't want to disrupt my listening experience. (Words like " avuncular" and "susurrant" come to mind.) Even though the story takes place about 66 years ago at the writing of this review, it's still unusual and special. You may even enjoy reminiscing about luncheonettes, telephone booths and radios that have to warm up before they will work. And the suspense grows until the very end. I thought I had everything figured out, but I was totally surprised at how things wrapped up. Love it when that happens!
PERFORMANCE - The reader does a good job, although he doesn't even attempt to differentiate between the main characters (a pet peeve of mine). I particularly dislike his portrayal of a male (can't say who) toward the end of the book. The character is obviously a good guy and trying to help, yet he comes across as a smug a$$hole. Maybe it was the reader's attempt to misdirect listeners as to his motives, but I didn't like it.
OVERALL - I'd recommend this book for anyone old enough to enjoy a good, suspenseful murder story. There's no cursing or sex, and the murders aren't excessively gory or violent. (It's the 50's...)
Mystery reader (especially series) and Austen lover
When you listen to this book, it seems as fresh and current as it was when first published in 1953, with a main character psychopath/sociopath who is charming and ruthless, preying on young women and willing to kill to get what he wants.
Ira Levin was 23 when "A Kiss Before Dying" was published, and I marvel at the taut, complex and frightening plot which he produced. This is especially true when you consider that his other works through his lifetime included "No Time For Sergeants," "The Boys From Brazil," "Rosemary's Baby," and "The Stepford Wives."
While I had previously seen a movie of this story, I had never read the book. The book is sooo much better at building the suspense and keeping you guessing. The author even manages to keep the reader guessing for a while over which of three possible young men is the culprit.
The recording also contains an informative introduction about the author and the book, and how the book was received when it was first published.
Highly recommended to anyone who appreciates taut and careful plotting, and enjoys classic mystery stories.
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