A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin

A Kiss Before DyingA Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Levin, perhaps best known for Rosemary’s Baby wrote this in 1953 when crime novels, and life, had a very different style. I consider this one a solid three and a half stars, but I’m rounding up to four stars since goodreads doesn’t allow halfsies. It starts out with action, which got me into the plot right off. The narrator has gotten his girlfriend pregnant and she doesn’t want to get an abortion. He begins to think about killing her. There is tension and suspense right away – will he or won’t he? If so how? Will he get caught? And who is he? We don’t have a name. Mystery, mystery, mystery. Then she dies … but is it a suicide or a murder? You get the answer very quickly.

A suspect is identified, but is he a murderer? Did he drive her to suicide? Is he even the right man? So the book is full of action and suspense. I’ll give it that. But much of it seems forced and implausible. On the stylistic side, I like that the author didn’t try to get too artistic or literary. It’s good old murder mystery stuff, not fancy-schmancy. It’s very plot driven and I was always looking forward to the next chapter. In the end, though, I can’t give it a full four or five stars because of what I call the Hokey Factor, especially the ending. It was contrived, predictable, and unbelievable. Once the final scene’s setting was made known, you knew what was going to happen there. The author drew it out way too long. You’ll roll your eyes and mutter “really?” Even so, I enjoyed the read and think the typical mystery fan will, too.

It was interesting from another viewpoint, too, and this is as a time capsule. Everybody smoked. Women didn’t have careers. They were just looking for a man to support them and give them babies. Men were judged on whether their suits had shoulder pads and they had “prospects.” This was just the natural order of things, not some sort of plot device to show how sexist the men were. I lived through that era as a kid and remember it well. There was no sociological point being made here.

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