Books Read in 2015 – 13. A Kiss Before Dying – Ira Levin

Genre: American Crime

Narrative Style: 3rd person narration from multiple viewpointsUnknown-1

Rating: 5/5

Published: 1953

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: The future had looked so rosy but then Dorothy announced she was pregnant and all his plans came crashing down. He knows he has to something – indeed he will do anything – to ensure his plans come to fruition. He is a man of ambition and his goal is the millions of wealthy copper ore family, the Kingships. He will stop at nothing, not even murder, to get what he feels he deserves. 

I was familiar with the plot of this story, having seen the film with Matt Dillon in the early 90s so I was eager to see what the book was like. As with other books by Levin, I was impressed to see that the book was even better than the film versions. Levin really was a master of suspense and he certainly kept me reading on.

The novel starts with an unnamed male narrator discovering that his girlfriend, Dorothy Kingship is pregnant. This does not please him but it soon comes clear he feels there is more at stake than merely the loss of his freedom. He has been courting Dorothy with the hope of marrying her and gaining access to her family’s money. If her father discovers the pregnancy, she will be cut off. At first, he tries to make her take pills that will make her miscarry and then, when that doesn’t work, his thoughts take an even darker turn. He cons Dorothy into thinking he will marry her and then lures her on to the roof of the building before pushing her off, making it look like suicide. I must admit, I felt little sympathy for Dorothy and I was more concerned with how he might overcome the obstacles that fate presented for him. It was fascinating to watch the thought processes of a psychopath unfurl. Especially one who thinks he may be getting away with the perfect crime.

In the second part, we are presented with Dorothy’s sister, Ellen who is unconvinced by her sister’s supposed suicide. She has some information about a boy who was seeing Dorothy and she is determined that he had something to do with her death. She meets two men, both of which fit the bill. As the man from the first part is never named, the reader is also in the dark about his identity. I was genuinely surprised when his identity was revealed.

The final part concerns the final sister, recovering slowly from one sister’s suicide and the next one’s murder. She seems to have found the perfect man. He likes all the things she likes. He is a gentleman although he is poor. Now the reader is fully aware that this is the same man from the start and the tension is now whether he will indeed get away with it. The ending was intense and immensely satisfying. It was also a relief. The tension before the end is almost unbearable. An excellent read.

Books Read in 2014 – 31. The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

Genre: Horror, Dystopia, Satire

Narrative Style: Third Person from the point of view of one characterdownload (8)

Rating 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 1972

Synopsis: Joanna moves to Stepford at the insistence of her husband, Walter and, at first, it seems to good to be true. She soon becomes irritated by the passiveness of the women and their housework obsession. Then the two friends she thought were different start to show the same obsessions and she starts to wonder what exactly is going on in Stepford. I can remember seeing the 1975 film version of this book when I was fifteen so I knew what the basic story was. You might think that this would spoil the story, making it less tense but this was not the case. Levin unfolds Joanna’s story masterfully and knowing what might happen to her only made me more anxious for her to escape the clutches of the men of Stepford. Joanna begins the novel an independent, strong woman who works as a photographer. She does housework when she has to and is used to having strong female friendships. She is sexual and attractive without the need for make-up. However, when she comes to Stepford she finds all the women are eerily similar and coldly distant. They are unable to find a place in their housework schedule to even meet for coffee. They are beautifully coiffed and clothed. She is rightly appalled by this and by her husband leaving every evening to go to the men’s association. Joanna does meet two other like-minded women – both of whom have not lived in Stepford for long – and they try desperately to get some sort of female movement going. However, when one of them suddenly becomes docile like the other women, they start to worry that they’ll be next. Eventually there is only Joanna left and she tries desperately to warn the one woman to move to Stepford after her before the men seal her fate. Levin cleverly does not tell the reader exactly what happens to Joanna. She merely loses narrative perspective. Ruthanne takes over the narrative point of view and she runs into Joanna in the supermarket, noting her coldness, her obsession with housework and how good she looks. As Ruthanne is a writer, it can be assumes that she will be the men’s next victim. The men in the novel respond specifically to their wives’ attempts at politicising themselves. Joanna discovers that the women were once activists or very successful professionals that held feminist meetings. The message that Levin is trying to get across is clear. Men will not just stand back and let women gain power from them. As Chuck Palahniuk notes in the introduction, perhaps more heed should have been taken. The whole beauty industry and the obsession with women’s appearance is one very successful way of keeping them in their place regardless of their professional position.