Book name: Ripley’s Game
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Publisher: Random House (US)/Heinemann (UK)
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Murder mystery/thriller
Publication Date: 1974
Rating: Four out of five
Tom Ripley is one of Patricia Highsmith's most famous characters, immortalised onscreen by Matt Damon in The Talented Mr Ripley and appearing in five novels.
Ripley is an anti-hero, the central character in a psychological thriller intriguing for the fact that is told from the point of view of the criminal rather than the detective.
In Ripley's Game, Ripley is happy enough living in southern France. He's approached by an associate who needs a mafia man bumped off but declines the job offer. He does, however, form a natty little plot.
An innocent man is convinced that his illness is so far advanced that he has only weeks to live. The man is persuaded to provide money for his wife and young son after he's gone by doing the shooting for them.
After the murder, Trevanny is all ready to give up involvement in this secretive world but is persuaded to murder again for money. Ripley helps out this time. All Trevanny wants is for his wife to get the money, but she's already putting two and two together and linking both him and Ripley to the crimes.
For Ripley's Game to feature a central character who is a hit man rather than a pillar of the establishment detective was unusual back in 1974, though it has proved a popular idea since. I liked the inventiveness of the approach.
I felt incredibly sorry for Trevanny. He is weak and isolated, yet his motive in wanting the money for his wife was a good one. The marks he is involved in killing belong to organised crime. It was carefully pitched by Patricia Highsmith for him to remain sympathetic, actually quite pitiful, even though he has committed a murder.
Ripley is thoroughly unlikeable, and Patricia Highsmith makes no bones about it. His behaviour towards Trevanny was manipulative and cowardly. It was unforgivable, and in that sense I found the story quite depressing. I could never get past feeling sorry for Trevanny.
Regardless of whether I took to the character, Ripley was vividly created. The locations and description of life in southern France, where Trevanny runs a small and not particularly profitable picture-framing business, were intensely real.
I think it is perfectly possible to recognise the excellent of plot and characterisation while simultaneously admitting that I loathed Tom Ripley. It did impact negatively on my personal enjoyment of reading the book. I had seen the film The Talented Mr Ripley and, despite superb acting, I hadn't enjoyed that much either.
I thought I'd give Ripley's Game a go, but it confirmed my existing feelings about the franchise. This says nothing about Patricia Highsmith's writing, which was excellent. The series of books and films has been incredibly popular. There is much to admire here, and other readers have responded far more positively to Ripley than I have.
There's just something about Ripley's selfishness that doesn't work for me. I think it really does come back to the central character.
There's been a lot of interest more recently in the Villanelle novella series, especially since its adaptation for TV by the BBC as Killing Eve starring Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh. I enjoyed that adaptation very much, partly I suspect because of the ironic humour at the heart of it.
It suggests an inner acceptance that preying on others was unsustainable and unacceptable, and was a far gentler portrayal I thought of a very similar fictional environment.
The original thriller from the perspective of the killer, the Ripley series certainly delivers with style and panache, but Ripley's Game left me slightly alienated from it emotionally.
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