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Review: A Kiss Before Dying, by Ira Levin

Ira Levin wrote novels and plays, many of which have been made into very successful films. He combines mystery and intrigue with crime, horror and science fiction, and wrote his novels primarily in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The first book of Levin’s that I read was Rosemary’s Baby (written in 1967 and widely thought to have been the inspiration for films like The Exorcist and The Omen—something I believe he was not all that proud of).

I looked for more of his books and found that my grandmother had a copy of A Kiss Before Dying, his first novel, which was written and set in the early 1950s. You can see the effects of the war still being felt by the characters, but the hope of a better future is driving their ambition and behaviour. To say much about the plot of this book will spoil it—from the beginning you do not know who is who. You do, however, know that the book is about three sisters (there are three parts to the book, entitled Dorothy, Ellen and Marion). And in Dorothy’s part of the book you know that the two young lovers are both driven by dreams of a future that will be completely different from their past.

The book does contain some references that would be questionable today, but these are incidental and true to the times in which they were written. This story has been made into a film—twice. I have seen the first one and it is good. But I am so glad that I read the book first. You are led through the thought processes that drive the cold actions of a young man who is determined to get what he wants. There is a dramatic ending which shocks, but also brings the young man back to an early event in his life in a most fitting manner. I have read this book again recently, and while all the suspense and intrigue are compromised by knowing what will happen, it still kept me turning the pages.