“His plans had been running so beautifully, so goddamned 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 all right though; the lights were out.”
Dorothy ‘Dorrie’ Kingship has just told her boyfriend she’s pregnant.
“Finally his face relaxed. He put his arm around her and stroked her back. It was warm, or rather his hand was cold; all of him was cold, he discovered; his armpits were creeping with sweat and his legs were quivering the way they always did when things took a crazy turn and caught him helpless and unprepared.”
The unnamed boyfriend–readers will learn his name much later in the narrative–insinuated himself into Dorothy Kinship’s life with the hopes of marry her … for her money. Dorothy is the youngest of three daughters of Leo Kingship, the wealthy magnate and owner of Kingship Copper. Her father’s high moral standards would impede Dorothy’s boyfriend from achieving his goal of wealth and status. And so the stage is set…
How will the social climbing boyfriend deal with an unwanted pregnancy and Dorothy? “The dilemma had finally caught up with him and engulfed him like the filthy water that pounded the abutments of the bridge. Marry her or leave her. A wife and a child with no money, or be hounded and blackmailed by her father.” And so the decision is made to kill.
In part two, Ellen Kingship arrives in Blue River, Iowa, and speaks to the Dean at Stoddard University. Convinced her sister was murdered, Ellen sets out to find Dorothy’s handsome blond-haired boyfriend. The amateur sleuth uncovers two possible suspects, Gordon Gant and Dwight Powell. Unfortunately for her, she will learn who the killer is, and he is closer to her than she suspects.
Finally, in part three, Bud Corliss approaches Marion Kingship hoping to return a book he’d borrowed from her sister, Ellen. Then after a “chance” meeting at the Museum of Modern Art, Marion begins to fall in love with this handsome young man with whom she seems to have so much in common.
When nuptials are announced, Gordon Gant comes to New York City and informs Leo Kingship that Bud is not to be trusted. He insinuates that Bud knew Dorothy and Ellen and is now looking to win “the Kingship Copper sweepstakes” with Marion. The two men will then put a plan in motion to learn the truth and uncover a remorseless killer.
The story is cleverly plotted from the omission of Dorothy’s boyfriend’s name to the sociapathic boyfriend’s plot to kill her. Ellen’s one tangible clue that her sister didn’t commit suicide involves the familiar “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.” And the final denouement at the Kingship copper smelter is edge-of-your-seat riveting as the killer is confronted and forced to confess.
A Kiss Before Dying is Ira Levin’s first novel, written when he was just twenty-three years old. Published in 1953, it won the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel. Just three years later, it was adapted as a feature film starring Robert Wagner, Joanne Woodward, and Jeffrey Hunter.
The novel, available in ebook and print versions, is a must read for mystery fans.