Thursday, 22 November 2007

Ira Levin

Ira Levin, who died a few days ago, was an extraordinarily gifted story-teller. He can’t be accused of being prolific, producing a mere seven novels in the last half-century or so. But several of those novels were masterpieces of story-telling. His debut, A Kiss Before Dying, came out when he was only 23, but it remains an outstanding crime novel. Rosemary’s Baby is utterly gripping, as was Polanski’s film, while The Stepford Wives is another example of Levin’s flair for depicting innocents in the grip of dark forces quite beyond their control.

Levin wrote more plays than novels. Deathtrap is by far the most renowned, but I enjoyed Veronica’s Room(I’ve only read it, never seen it performed) even more. I’ve always been interested in crime stories written for the theatre and it’s a subject to which I’ll return in the future, as it seems to me that mystery plays are almost always overlooked in studies of the genre. And there have been some very good ones over the years.

But for now, it’s enough to salute the memory of an author whose best work I found utterly compelling.


Maxine Clarke said...

Me too, I've read all his books and his plays too. (I have read far more plays than I've seen performed).
I was quite young when I read "A Kiss Before Dying" and I was completely shocked and thrilled by the twist (identity of the fiance/husband). I suppose it is all old hat these days, but that moment of realisation has stuck with me for many years!
Mind you, a difficult book to film...there have been two versions of it to my knowledge, I think I may have seen the first one but not the second - Robert Wagner was in it, maybe? I can't recall it as being very good.

Martin Edwards said...

Maxine, I was directed to the book originally by Julian Symons' masterly survey of the genre, 'Bloody Murder'. I recall that JS said that the only flaw was that the twist came a bit too early. Even so, it's a brilliant twist and an extraordinary piece of work for a young writer.
The original film I recall (rather vaguely now) as okay, but not at the same level as the book, and so far I've resisted the re-make, which didn't get good reviews.

Maxine Clarke said...

You remind me that Julian Symons was another wonderful author --- and a stong proponent for the genre at a time when it was rather "looked down on". He did so much to establish crime fiction as a "respectable" type of literature, and to support and promote authors. Another person, as well as Levin, who is sadly missed.

Martin Edwards said...

Maxine, I couldn't agree more. I was a huge fan of Symons and I was thrilled that, in the last few years of his life, I had the opportunity to meet him a few times. He was someone who didn't suffer fools, or sloppy writing, gladly, but his sharp intelligence and his real love of the genre always shone through. Some of his novels are superb - I've always admired 'The Man Whose Dreams Came True', for instance. And of all the books ever written about crime fiction,'Bloody Murder' is by far my favourite. Of course, opinions about some of his critical judgments may be mixed. But he always made it clear that he was open to 'reasoned contradiction'.