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A Book Review on the novel A Kiss Before Dying

Updated on June 29, 2012

The main character will surprise you


I have a Kindle and I try and keep up with deals on books. Sometimes you can catch one on sale and that is how I discovered the book A Kiss before Dying by Ira Levin. I like a good mystery and decided to give it a try. The book was written in 1958. Before you start thinking that is a bit dated, I really recommend you reading it. It was Ira’s first novel, and he started out with a bang. The novel won an Edgar Award in 1954.This is the Edgar Allen Poe Award presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America. He was just twenty three years old.

The book is so good it has been made into several movies. The first film came out in 1956 and it was entitled A Kiss before Dying. It starred Joanne Woodward and Robert Wagner. A second movie was made with the same title as the 1956 version and it starred Matt Dillon and Sean Young.

Usually the main character has some likeable traits that have you rooting for him or her. It isn’t the case in A Kiss before Dying. The main character is named Bud Corliss. There really isn’t one thing nice about him. He is a sociopath and a narcissist who cares nothing about the feelings of others, but only about himself. Bud first discovers how indifferent he can be during World War II when he kills a Japanese soldier. At first Bud was scared about dying, but then he discovered the Japanese soldier and saw he was scared too. Seeing the soldier nervous made Bud calm and indifferent. After he kills the soldier he doesn’t feel a thing.

Why you ask would we want to read a book about so unlikeable a character? The reason is how the mystery unfolds, and how you come to care about the other characters in the book. They don’t know that behind the smile and the charm there is the soul of a monster. The first paragraph of the first chapter in the book reveals Bud’s true personality when it begins:

“His plans had been running beautifully, so beautifully, and now she was going to smash them all. Hate erupted and flooded through him, gripping his face with jaw-aching pressure. That was alright though; the lights were out.”

Bud Corliss decides to attend college not for an education, but more for a chance of meeting someone who could finance his dreams.

The first one to fit the bill is named Dorothy Kingship. Dorothy is from a rich family. Her father is a wealthy copper tycoon. Poor Dorothy falls for Bud with his blond hair and good looks. Things suddenly take a change and Bud is resentful of Dorothy. This is the first the reader sees of just how cold Bud can be. Dorothy believes all his reassurances, and you would like to find a way to communicate with her and say “Stay far away from this character. “ Once Bud forms a plan there is no going back.

The next character who unfortunately crosses paths with Bud is Dorothy’s sister Ellen. Ellen is a bright girl who comes to town with a purpose. You are on her side as she tries to size up what is going on around her. This is where the suspense really kicks in. This is the character you care about. She enters the town not knowing who she can trust and you can sympathize with her because, as the reader ,we aren’t really sure which characters are good and bad at this point of the story.

Believe it or not Bud even manages to meet a third sister in the Kingship family and her name is Marion. Bud has a little trouble working his charms on this sister because she is more reserved than her sisters Dorothy and Ellen.

The story will grip you from beginning to end. First you can’t believe the main character. Bud is almost like a character from Patricia Highsmith novels where the men are immoral and go to any lengths to get what they want. Bud studies the people he wants to close to and uses the information to his advantage.

There are several characters in the book that are wise to Bud and vow to find a way to get the evidence they need to prove he is a murderer. They soon find that it isn’t as easy as they might have thought. Even though they are intelligent, they soon see that he is one step ahead of them.

This is a book you will keep you turning the pages. In fact it had me sitting up later than I wanted to because I had to find out exactly how it was going to end. This is a great mystery. Each page has you hoping that justice will be served on Bud. Will justice be served and who will expose Bud for who he really is? You will have to read it and find out. A Kiss before Dying is a superb novel that has stood the test of time. It is just as entertaining today as it was on its first release.

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