The moment(s) when I realised Ira Levin was a genius

Tom Trott
3 min readJul 28, 2021

I love Ira Levin’s novel, The Boys from Brazil, about Nazi expats in South America attempting to resurrect the Third Reich. It’s ridiculous, absolutely preposterous, but also riveting and huge amounts of fun. But there’s a chapter (or should I say a section) exactly halfway through the book that blew me away and made me realise that Levin was a genius, an absolute master, and deserves to be taught in creative writing classes, etc. etc. etc.

It almost reads like Levin got bored. He found the process of writing the book so easy that he had to test himself. And so he gives you a section of pure dialogue. No descriptions. No he said/she said, just pure dialogue. The characters have not entered the story before, and they don’t reappear, and yet we understand everything that happens. We know exactly who they are and what they’re about. And after just five pages of this, a man has convinced a woman to unwittingly plant a suicide bomb next to another man’s hospital bed. We never learn if the plan goes off. We don’t need to know.

Pure. Genius.

I read Levin’s books in the “wrong” order, and just recently I read his first novel, A Kiss Before Dying. I was less interested because I knew it wasn’t one of his high-concept thrillers, just a plain old regular crime thriller. And once again, he blew my socks off.