Title: A Kiss Before Dying.
Author: Ira Levin.
Genre: Fiction, crime, serial killers.
Publication Date: 1953.
Summary: The story centers on a charming, intelligent man, Bud Corliss, a veteran of World War II, who will stop at nothing to rise above his working-class origins to a life of wealth and importance. His problem is a pregnant woman who loves him. The solution involves desperate measures.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ There were so many details—assuming he wanted to do it. Today was Tuesday; the marriage could be postponed no later than Friday or she might get worried and call Ellen. Friday would be the deadline. It would require a great deal of fast, careful planning.
He looked at the notes he had printed:
1. Gun (n.g.)
d) Appearance of
or (2) suicide
Assuming, of course, that he wanted to do it. At present it was all purely speculative; he would explore the details a little. A mental exercise.
But his stride, when he left the restaurant and headed back through town, was relaxed and sure and steady.
♥ "You don't know," he said flatly. "You just don't know. You're a kid who's been rich all her life."
Her hands tried to clench within his. "Why must everyone always throw that at me? Why must you? Why do you think that's so important?"
"It is important, Dorrie, whether you like it or not. Look at you,—a pair of shoes to match every outfit, a handbag to match every pair of shoes. You were brought up that way. You can't—"
"Do you think that matters? Do you think I care?" She paused. Her hands relaxed, and when she spoke again the anger in her voice had softened to a straining earnestness. "I know you smile at me sometimes, at the moves I like... at my being romantic... Maybe it's because you're five years older than I am, or because you were in the Army, or because you're a man,—I don't know... But I believe, I truly believe, that if two people really love each other... the way I love you... the way you say you love me... then nothing else matters very much... money, things like that, they just don't matter. I believe that... I really do..."
♥ They walked the wet concrete paths in silence, divorced by the privacy of their thoughts, holding hands through habit. The rain had stopped but face-tingling moisture filled the air, defining the scope of each streetlamp in shifting gray.
♥ As he straightened up he felt his hat shift slightly with the motion. He took it off, looked at it, and placed it on the valise. Christ, he was thinking of everything! A little thing like the hat would probably louse up somebody else. They would push her over and then a breeze or the force of the movement might send their hat sailing down to land beside her body. Bam! They might as well throw themselves over after it. Not he, though; he had anticipated, prepared. An act of God, the crazy kind of little thing that was always screwing up perfect plans,—and he had anticipated it. Jesus! He ran a hand over his hair, wishing there were a mirror.
♥ He had planned to do it quickly, as soon as he got her up there, but now he was going to take it slow and easy, drawing it out as long as he safely could. He was entitled to that, after a week of nerve-twisting tension. Not just a week,—years. Ever since high school it had been nothing but strain and worry and self-doubt. There was no need to rush this.
♥ Toward the middle of July, however, he began to slough off his dejection. He still had the newspaper clippings about Dorothy's death, locked in a small gray strongbox he kept in his bedroom closet. He began taking them out once in a while, skimming through them, smiling at the officious certainty of Chief of Police Eldon Chesser and the half-baked theorizing of Annabelle Koch.
He dug up his old library card, had it renewed, and began withdrawing books regularly; Pearson's Studies in Murder, Bolitho's Murder for Profit, volumes in the Regional Murder Series. He read about Landru, Smith, Pritchard, Crippen; men who had failed where he had succeeded. Of course it was only the failures whose stories got written,—God knows how many successful ones there were. Still, it was flattering to consider how many had failed.
Until now he had always thought of what happened at the Municipal Building as "Dorrie's death." Now he began to think of it as "Dorrie's murder."
Sometimes, when he had lain in bed and read several accounts in one of the books, the enormous daring of what he had done would overwhelm him. He would get up and look at himself in the mirror over the dresser. I got away with murder, he would think. Once he whispered it aloud: "I got away with murder!"
So what if he wasn't rich yet! Hell, he was only twenty-four.
♥ It should be simple to find out which was the one... and then she would watch him, even meet him perhaps—though not as Ellen Kingship. Watch for the darting eye, the guarded answer. Murder must leave marks.
♥ Go straight to the center of things. Impetuous? When you thought about it, it was really the most logical thing to do.
♥ A killer on guard, ready perhaps to kill again. She wouldn't risk tangling with that—not when he had seen her face. Better to live in doubt than to die in certainty.
♥ He looked for a moment, while a breeze plucked softly at the tower cables, and then he turned slowly around until he was facing the airshaft. He stared at the parapet. Then his right foot extended itself and his legs began to walk. They carried him forward with silent relentless efficiency like the kegs of a reformed alcoholic carrying him to the bar for just one little drink.
♥ Well say something, he thought, enjoying the slow stupid melting of Mister Dwight Powell's face. Start talking. Start pleading. Probably can't. Probably he's all talked out after the—what's the word?—the logorrhea of the cocktail lounge. Good word.
♥ Ahead of the car a white onrush of highway narrowed to implied infinity always beyond the headlights' reach.
♥ He had told her everything, in a bitter voice, glancing frequently at her green-touched face in the darkness. There were moments of awkward hesitancy in his narration, as an on-leave soldier telling how he won his medals hesitates before describing to the gentle townsfolk how his bayonet ripped open an enemy's stomach, then goes on and describes it because they asked how he won his medals, didn't they?—describes it with irritation and mild contempt for the gentle townsfolk who never had had to rip open anyone's stomach. ..—he told her these things with irritation and contempt; this girl with her hands over her mouth in horror had had everything given her on a silver platter; she didn't know what it was to live on a swaying catwalk over the chasm of failure, stealing perilously inch by inch towards the solid ground of success so many miles away.
♥ "You're crazy," he told himself aloud one day, looking at the list. "You're a crazy nut, he said affectionately. He didn't really think that; he thought he was daring, audacious, brilliant, intrepid and bold.
♥ Because the two rooms were smaller than those she had occupied in her father's home, she could not take all her possessions with her. Those that she did take, therefore, were the fruit of a thoughtful selection. She told herself she was choosing the things she liked best, the things that meant the most to her, which was true; but as she hung each picture and placed each book upon the shelf, she saw it not only through her own eyes but also through the eyes of a visitor who would some day come to her apartment, a visitor as yet unidentified except as to his sex. Every article was invested with significance, an index to her self; the furniture and the lamps and the ashtrays (modern but not modernistic), the reproduction of her favorite painting (Charles Demuth's My Egypt; not quite realistic; its planes accentuated and enriched by the eye of the artist), the records (some of the jazz and some of the Stravinsky and Bartók, but mostly the melodic listen-in-the-dark themes of Grieg and Brahms and Rachmaninoff), and the books—especially the books, for what better index of the personality is there?—(the novels and plays, the non-fiction and verse, all chosen in proportion and representation of her tastes). It was like the concentrated abbreviation of a Help Wanted ad. The egocentricity which motivated it was not that of the spoiled, but of the too little spoiled; the lonely. Had she been an artist she would have painted a self-portrait, instead she decorated two rooms, charging them with objects which some visitor, some day, would recognize and understand. And through that understanding he would divine all the capacities and longings she had found in herself and was unable to communicate.
♥ "I dragged Ellen there once or twice. Thought I'd indoctrinate her." He shook his head. "No luck."
"She wasn't interested in art."
"No," he said. "It's funny the way we try to push our tastes on people we like."
♥ Marion smiled. "I'll tell you something," she said. "I always get a little embarrassed looking at... statues like this."
"This one embarrasses me a little," he said, smiling. "It's not a nude; it's a naked."
♥ A moment passed. "He picked the wrong man," he said softly, still looking at the photograph of the smelter. "He should have picked on somebody else's daughters."
♥ Finally he was only twenty feet from the tree, and looking up, he could discern the figure crouched in it. He lifted his rifle; he aimed, and fired. The bird chorus shrieked. The tree remained motionless. Then suddenly a rifle dropped from it, and he saw the sniper slide clumsily down a vine and drop to the ground with his hands high in the air; a little yellow man grotesquely festooned with leaves and branches, his lips emitting a terrified sing-song chatter.
Keeping the rifle trained on the Jap, he stood up. The Jap was as scared as he was; the yellow face twitched wildly and the knees shivered; more scared, in fact, for the front of the Jap's pants was dark with a spreading stain.
He watched the wretched figure with contempt. His own legs steadied. His sweating stopped. The rifle was weightless, like an extension of his arms, immobile, aimed at the trembling caricature of a man that confronted him. The Jap's chatter had slowed to a stone of entreaty. The yellow-brown fingers made little begging motions in the air.
Quite slowly, he squeezed the trigger. He did not move with the recoil. Insensate to the kick of the butt on his shoulder, he watched attentively as a black-red hole blossomed and swelled in the chest of the Jap. The little man slid clawing to the jungle floor. Bird screams were like a handful of colored cards thrown into the air.
After looking at the slain enemy for a minute or so, he turned and walked away. His step was as easy and certain as when he had crossed the stage of the auditorium after accepting his diploma.
..What was the matter with them? Their faces. . . the mask-like blankness was gone, warped into—into embarrassment and sick contempt, and they were looking down at. . .
He looked down. The front of his pants was dark with a spreading stain that ran in a series of island blotches down his right trouser leg. Oh God! The Jap. . . the Jap he had killed—that wretched trembling, chattering, pants-wetting caricature of a man—was thathim? Was that himself?
The answer was in their faces.
♥ Hardness in his hands! The cables! The weight of his body swung down and around, pulling at his armpits and tearing his hands on protruding steel threads. He hung with his legs swinging the taut cables and his eyes staring at one of them, seeing the frayed fibers that were stabbing like needles into his hands above. A chaos of sound; a whistle shrieking, a woman screaming, voices above, voices below. . . He squinted up at his hands—blood was starting to trickle down the insides of his wrists—the ovenlike heat was smothering, dizzying, engulfing him with the noxious stench of copper—voices shouted to him—he saw his hands starting to open—he was letting go because he wanted to, just as he had jumped from the catwalk but instinct had made him grab the cables and now he was overcoming instinct—his left hand opened and fell—he hung by his right, turning slightly in the furnace heat—there was oil on the back of his hand from the stanchion or the chain or something—and they wouldn't have pushed him either—you think anyone can kill?—he had jumped and now he was letting go because he wanted to, that's all, and everything was all right and his knees weren't shaking any more, not that they had been shaking so much anyway, his knees weren't shaking any more because he was in command again—he hadn't noticed his right hand open but it must have opened because he was dropping into the heat, cables were shooting up. Someone was screaming like Dorrie going into the shaft and Ellen when the first bullet wasn't enough—this person was screaming this god-awful scream and suddenly it was himself and he couldn't stop! Why was he screaming? Why? Why on earth should he be—
The scream, which had knifed through the sudden stillness of the smelter, ended in a viscous splash.