The murderer, Bud Corliss, pretends to love his rich victims before he kills them.
Ira Levin was born in 1929 in New York City, where he still lives and has raised three sons. He wrote his first novel in 1952, the crime novel A Kiss before Dying, which was an immediate public success. His second novel, Rosemary’s baby, was published in 1964. It is a hair-raising fictitious account of modern devilry and witchcraft. It was made into a film starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. In 1967 Ira Levin’s third novel was published, This Perfect Day, which is a novel about a futuristic world controlled by computers. It was followed by The Stepford Wives in 1972 and Boys from Brazil which was his final novel.
The literary period:
Twentieth century—second part
A Kiss Before Dying is a thriller that contains many aspects of a detective novel.
Without realising it, Dorothy Kingship (Dorrie) has ruined her boyfriend’s evil plans by getting pregnant. The boy, Bud Corliss, whose name is yet to be revealed, is bent on securing the money of Dorothy’s father, Mr. Leo Kingship, managing director of Kingship Copper Inc., into his own bank account. Dorothy is blind to this and loves Bud very much, not seeing the malicious man who lies beneath. She wants to marry him, but he knows that if they marry, there will be no money from Daddy. He gives her pills to take to get rid of the baby, but they do not work. He then plans to kill her in a way that will look like suicide. He gives her more pills that he says are abortion pills, better than the last ones, and tells her to take them that night. He also tricks her into writing a suicide note in one of their university classes, which he sends to Dorothy’s sister, Ellen.
The next day, Bud Corliss is shocked when Dorothy shows up for class and says that the pills did not work. He knows that she did not really take the pills, and thinks that she is a ‘dirty liar.’ He knows that the note will reach Ellen that day, so he has five hours to get rid of Dorothy before that time. He tells Dorothy that he wants to get married that afternoon. They go to the courthouse early, just like he had planned, and he takes her to the roof, telling her that they should admire the view from up there. Once they are there, he pushes her down a ventilation shaft, killing her. The police think that it is suicide.
Leo Kingship receives a letter from a friend of Dorothy’s, supposedly the last person to have seen her alive, and she says that the day of Dorrie’s suicide she came to her to borrow a belt, but she had one exactly like it herself. In a letter written to Bud Corliss, Ellen describes how she may have pieced together clues that prove that Dorothy did not commit suicide, but was murdered. She thinks that Dorothy was ready to get married, as she was wearing ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,’ as the old tradition goes. Ellen goes to the university and, with the help of the Dean, manage to narrow the number of men who could have been Dorothy’s boyfriend down to two, Gordon Gant and Dwight Powell, who seem to be the only two who could match the description of Dorothy’s boyfriend.
Ellen secretly checks into Gordon Gant. They meet once, but it gives her no clues. Then, they meet in a hotel room, where Gordon finds the letter written to Bud from Ellen and realises why he is there.
Ellen thinks that she has a better plan of taking Dwight Powell to the roof of the Municipal building where Dorothy was killed. He starts to sweat and become very nervous. The reader is led to believe that Dwight is the murderer. But he tells Ellen that he loved Dorothy and that he could never hurt her. He also says that the baby Dorothy was carrying could not be his because he was in New York the entire previous spring. Ellen believes him.
Dwight tells Ellen that he has a notebook with the name of Dorothy’s last boyfriend while he was away. Bud overhears the conversation and goes to Dwight’s place and hides in the cupboard. While Ellen is not present, Bud jumps out of the closet and points a gun in Dwight’s face. Dwight accuses him of killing Dorothy, and is shot dead. When Ellen arrives, Bud tells her that he overheard them talking in a cocktail lounge, and as he was sure that Dwight would kill her, he went to Dwight’s to protect her. He says that Dwight was not looking for a notebook, but for a gun, and that when he jumped Dwight, the gun went off. Bud wants to leave Dwight’s, but Ellen says that if he does it is a sign of his guilt. Bud takes her to a lonely place in the country, tells her how he killed Dorothy and then shoots her.
Bud contacts Marion next, the last Kingship daughter, and tells her that he was a friend of Ellen’s and wants to return a book he borrowed from her. This is the start of the relationship between Bud and Marion.
Gordon Gant, who does not like Bud, visits Mr. Kingship and tells him that he is suspicious of him because after Dorothy’s death, Bud transferred to Caldwell University, where Ellen was studying. He shows Kingship pictures of Dorothy and Bud together in the yearbook. Gant and Mr. Kingship wonder if Marion knows about Bud’s period at Stoddard. They go to ask her, and it turns out that she did not know, but accuses her father of “digging up dirt.”
Bud lives with the Kingships for a time, during which Gant secretly goes to Bud’s hometown and steals some things belonging to Bud that Gant thinks must be evidence that Bud killed the two sisters. Marion wants to marry Bud, on the other hand, and is sure of his love for her, until Gant shows her the things that he has taken from Bud. She now realises what Bud is really like.
Mr. Kingship finds out that Bud has ordered promotional literature from his company both when he was with Dorothy and when he started his adventure with Ellen.
The last part describes the trip to the Kingship Copper plant. Bud, Mr. Kingship, Marion, and Mr. Dettweiler, (really Gordon Gant) fly to the plant in a private plane. Bud thinks that he has finally made it. After having to go through all the trouble of killing the first two sisters, he has what he has wanted all along, and, he thinks, without suspicion from anyone.
On a catwalk high over the smelter basins, Mr. Kingship and Gant suddenly question Bud about the murders. He denies everything, but betrays himself by using the name ‘Dorrie,’ a name only used by those closest to Dorothy. Bud slips and falls off the catwalk, catching hold of a cable just over a vat of liquid copper. Finally, he has to let go, and with Marion watching, he falls into the vat with a splatter.
The story begins in 1949 and ends in December of 1951. There are used flashbacks.
The story takes place in several places in the United States such as Menasset, Massachusetts, New York, Caldwell, and Stoddard.
Characters and relationships:
Burton (Bud) Corliss:
A hardened criminal who deceives and kills in order to get what he wants. He is good at pretending and winning the trust of others. He feels that he is a genius, capable of planning and improvising the perfect crime. Only at the end does he experience fear, which shows how very heartless he is.
A faithful, loving, gullible girl who wants to marry Bud and is sure that he loves her.
An intelligent girl who, by careful deduction, finds the clue to Dorothy's death. Unfortunately she does not find out that Bud is both Dorothy's killer and her boyfriend until it is too late, and she, too, is killed by Bud.
Bud's third victim. She feels that her father is manipulating her with the help of a private investigator. She is a hard character who wants to see Bud die.
A reliable but stubborn young man who puts Mr. Kingship on the path to his daughter's killer. He loses his job as a disc jockey because he is so dedicated to finding out who the killer is.
Dorothy's ex-lover who is believed to be the father of her unborn baby, and feels responsible for her murder.
None, pure fiction.
The theme is one of betrayal, in which a murderer betrays the women whom he pretends to love, and also where good triumphs over evil in the end.
Easy, modern language with dialogue
Personal narration—the perspective is alternated between different characters.
The book is divided into three parts called Dorothy, Ellen and Marion, which are divided into chapters from 1 to 15 in each part.
Own opinion on the book:
It was an easy to read novel, at first I thought it was a boring love story, however the story was enjoyable.
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