Sometime during the 1970s, I fell in love with Robert Ludlum novels and waited anxiously for each new one to come out in paperback editions. Complex plots with an evil cabal at the center, which, free from government or moral constraints, plotted to take over the world. And were usually taken down by Mr Everyman. Or Mr Everyman and friends.
Of course, in those days I never actually believed there was such a conspiracy at the heart of our civilization, but it was fun to see them all destroyed anyway. And Ludlum was good at it. (Where is he now when we need someone to take down the Koch conspiracy?)
So good that when The Boys From Brazil was published I thought I was reading more Ludlum. But no, this riveting tale was from Ira Levin. By then, I had already devoured Levin's The Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby.
Somewhere along the line I picked up a hardback copy of my favorite Levin novel, This Perfect Day. Lesser known than his other works, it is a dystopian tale of a repressive tyranny and a man's attempt free himself. I have since learned that he was an Ayn Rand fan who actually met the lady. Perhaps that is why the creators of the world portrayed in TPD included Karl Marx and Jesus Christ.
But I read it for the escapism and the adventure, not caring much about its political underpinnings. There was a Cold War on and it was okay to think of Marx and Stalin in the same breath. The point that Mr. Levin and Ms. Rand both missed was that tyranny is not a political ideology, but rather a clumsy and generally inefficient tactic of governance that has been practiced at all points of the political spectrum including the far right.
Ideology aside, I found the methods of control portrayed in the novel interesting, from the drug therapy to the means of computer tracking all citizens. There have been times over the years that I have wondered if the creators of anti-depressants and GPS devices had read Ira Levin.
But for all of Levin's work that I did read, there was one that until now totally escaped me, his first novel, A Kiss Before Dying. I don't know how I missed this one, there were two movies made of it (I watched the original on Amazon last night) and it was a winner of the Edgar Allen Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best New Novel in 1954. But Amazon put the ebook up for sale and at $1.99 there was no way I was going to pass it up.
Since it was such a short book, although a riveting read, I decided to include another short mystery/thriller, White Lies, also a debut novel. Written by Jeremy Bates, it too only cost me $1.99 on sale at Amazon. The fact that the current price is now $10.09 must surely be the result of marketing.
The New York Times published an article in Saturday's paper about the big business that online book reviews have become. If you have ever felt let down by the customer reviews on sites like Amazon this may help explain why.
I guess the point is that one white lie will lead to another and eventually ensnare the teller in a web too tight and too strong to break out of. It was awful. Contrived. Unbelievable. The characters, including the heroine's dog, a boxer named Bandit, were cartoons. She leaves her dog alone in the house for a week-end. I don't know any real person who would do that, or any real dog that could do that. But clearly, this writer had never owned a dog or knew anything about caring for a dog. Or a woman.
Publishers Weekly, in a masterpiece of understatement, concludes:
Thin characters and improbable sequences weaken the overall impact.Do not believe the positive reviews. Please, because life really is too short for all of the good books that are out there, do not waste your time on this stinker.
SEATED AT HER DESK, Miss Richardson stretched out her right hand in a gesture she considered quite graceful and squinted at the gold bracelet that constricted the plumpness of her wrist. It was definitely too young looking for her mother, she decided. She would get something else for mother and keep the bracelet for herself.Now, Miss Richardson is a walk-on character in a single scene, with few speaking moments, but she lives in your mind with three sentences. You know her. You know what kind of person she is. Ira Levin does this with all of his characters. He doesn't describe them so much as he breathes life into them and allows them to show you who they are.
The story opens at Stoddard College, where Dorothy is a student who becomes pregnant by her drop dead gorgeous boyfriend who narrates the first third of the book. Her wealthy father is a morally demanding man who would never forgive her for having a child out of wedlock or within seven months of marriage. Her lover is penniless but highly ambitious and tries to abort the pregnancy with pills that a friend, whose relative owns a pharmacy, provided.
This all takes place in the late forties, early fifties, long before Roe v Wade, and portrays well the desperation and fear that an unexpected pregnancy created. In our current political climate, the desperation no longer seems quite so dated.
Speaking of dated, yes, they smoked cigarettes, but after the war everyone did. Cigarette manufacturers used to provide them free in rations that were distributed to the troops during WWII. And women matched their shoes to their purses, which were then matched up to their outfits.
Since the pills don't work (no kidding) and an early marriage would cause her father to disinherit her, destroying the only reason he was dating her, the boyfriend tried to get her to unwittingly take arsenic that he stole from the chemistry lab on campus and put in gelatin capsules.
When that didn't work either (she lied about taking them) he moves on to more direct methods to rid himself of the burden he was sure would destroy his future.
The plot is so well twisted that to reveal any more would be to take the fun out of it. If you like mysteries and would enjoy a little time travel back to post-war America, this is the next book you should read.
Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule
|DAY||TIME (EST/EDT)||Series Name||Editor(s)|
|SUN||6:00 PM||Young Reader's Pavilion||The Book Bear|
|Sun||9:30 PM||SciFi/Fantasy Book Club||quarkstomper|
|Bi-Monthly Sun||Midnight||Reading Ramblings||don mikulecky|
|MON||8:00 PM||Monday Murder Mystery||Susan from 29|
|Mon||11:00 PM||My Favorite Books/Authors||edrie, MichiganChet|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||LGBT Literature||Texdude50, Dave in Northridge|
|Tue||10:00 PM||Contemporary Fiction Views||bookgirl|
|Wed||8:00 PM||Bookflurries Bookchat||cfk|
|THU||8:00 PM||Write On!||SensibleShoes|
|alternate Thu||11:00 PM||Audiobooks Club||SoCaliana|
|FRI||8:00 AM||Books That Changed My Life||Diana in NoVa|
|SAT (fourth each month)||11:00 AM||Windy City Bookworm||Chitown Kev|
|Sat||9:00 PM||Books So Bad They're Good||Ellid|