A Kiss Before Dying

Not strictly a golden age novel – it was written in 1952 – but it has all the hallmarks of the finest writing of the golden age.

It is hard to imagine how Levin will manage to sustain the tension in his first person narrative when his thoughts turn to murder on page 27. There is somehow an inevitability about him succeeding. It is only at the end of part one, when the reader is flipped to the perspective of the person trying to find him that you realise that although you have been walking around in his head for 80 pages, you don’t know his name and neither does the detective. You suspect everybody that you now encounter is the man you now know so well from the inside. The shock when he is finally revealed is superb.

The book takes the psychology of the protagonist further along the trail started by Frances Iles in Malice Aforethought to create a believable insight into the mind of the character. The likely cause of his self-centred world view is made clear almost from the outset – well chapter 2 – and his ability to both plan and carry out complex schemes and improvise brilliantly when circumstances require makes him a thoroughly creepy and unnerving subject to read.

I was lent this book about a year ago and am finally able to share a discussion about it with the person from whom I borrowed it after they recommended it to me. It must have been so frustrating for them not to be able to talk about it without spoiling its various plot twists and revelations. And now I can only add my personal recommendation. Read it.  You will not be disappointed. It is brilliant.


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