Penzler Pick, February 2000: Astonishingly unappreciated in America in her lifetime, Patricia Highsmith has suddenly become a hot writer, four years after her death. This has been aided in no small part by the theatrical release of The Talented Mr. Ripley, with its cast of attractive young people. The success of the film has induced readers to try the book--not uncommon for popular movie adaptations--and then to look for other books by her as well. This excellent trilogy of the first three (of five) adventures of the utterly amoral Ripley helps fill that need.
In spite of being a bestselling writer in Germany, France, Austria, and other European countries, and in spite of the great fame accorded her first novel, Strangers on a Train, and the film adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock, Highsmith enjoyed no success in her native America, and she became an expatriate, living virtually all of her adult life in Europe.
The first of the Ripley novels is The Talented Mr. Ripley, in which the ne'er-do-well Tom Ripley commits murder and assumes the identity of his wealthy friend. In Ripley Underground, he is in danger of being discovered to have defrauded a large company out of a fortune, which could cost him his wealthy wife. In Ripley's Game, a casual snub causes Tom to concoct a scheme involving several murders, the Mafia, and a great deal of money.
These superbly crafted tales about the unfailingly charming but entirely reprehensible criminal are irresistible, much like watching Mike Tyson in a boxing ring (or out of it, for that matter). You know it's wrong to be titillated by it, and you feel guilty about enjoying the spectacle, but it's impossible to avert the eyes. --Otto Penzler