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The Talented Mr Ripley
Ripley Series, No 1
Patricia Highsmith

Vintage Crime
2008/ ISBN 0679742298
Suspense / -Italy /Contemporary

Reviewed by L J Roberts

First Sentence: Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way.

Tom Ripley has little money left and is very dissatisfied with his life. He also keeps expecting to be arrested for the various frauds he has perpetrated. An offer travel to Italy, all expenses paid, by the father of Dickie Greenleaf comes as a perfect solution. All Tom has to do is convenience Dickie to return to the US and his ailing mother. But Dickie isn’t interesting in going back and the longer Tom is in Italy the more he envies Dickie’s money and persona until that envy grows into violent actions.

Every now and then, you come across a book where you can see and appreciate the quality of the author’s writing, but you don’t particularly care for the book. This is one of those times.

The story revolves around Tom Ripley. He is described as “innocent and clean-minded.” He is clearly a virgin and may, or may not, be gay but still has a prepubescent boy’s view of sex as being “icky”. No matter what else he may be, Tom Ripley is a textbook sociopath and Highsmith does an excellent job of portraying it. The complete disdain with which she conveys Tom’s feeling toward Dickie’s friend, Marge, is exceedingly well done. There is a very good conveyance of Tom’s fear as well as very good suspense. As a character study, I felt the writing was excellent.

Evaluating the book as a mystery, however, is where the flaws appear. While Tom’s character is as dimensional as it can be, I found the other characters very one dimensional and completely undeveloped. I do question, although could be wrong, about one of the forensic elements but do find it very hard to accept that no one really saw the similarities between Tom and Dickie or did a more thorough investigation. The situation with the letter to the father and the will would have been highly suspect to me unless the family really didn’t care. As a mystery, there were just too many parts of the book that did not hold together.

“Ripley” was a fascinating book from the prospective of a book which has gained regard as a “classic,” but not one I would re-read or like well enough to read the follow-up books.

Reviewer's Note: More of Highsmith's novels
Reviewed 2011
© 2011