Ripley’s Game – 3/5
This is a reread of this one (I am rereading the whole series) and I liked it better the second time through. Two things happen early on in the book that are very important. First, Tom Ripley is asked to considered doing a murder for hire against two mafia enforcers, and next, Tom is annoyed at a party guest who kind of shows him up one evening. Tom does not want to do the murder, finding murder distasteful, even when necessary. Tom instead suggests that his solicitor discuss this proposal with the party guest, a man who is probably dying from cancer and thinking about how he might provide for his wife and son when he is dead. So they approach him and he’s shocked, but not so shocked. He gets himself more and more involved (or closer to deciding to get involved) and takes a few steps of the job. When asked to commit the final murder he avers. Somewhere along the line Tom Ripley gets his conscious working and decides he should help. He also accurately predicts that this dying man has no properly figured out how to explain the money to his wife.
As usual Patricia Highsmith does not have a high regard for straight marriage, and the cracks are almost immediate in this one. I know one person who told me about finding 50k in her husband’s possessions and how much it freaked her out and how he wouldn’t tell her where the money came from. I think about that from time to time, how not to get caught with a bunch of illegal cash, both from the government and my wife. Luckily I don’t have any.
The Boy Who Followed Ripley – 4/5
This novel feels more like it’s a continuation of Tom Ripley’s story more so than the last one, which feels more like a diversion or digression. In part, this feels directly connected to Ripley Underground because both deal with Tom’s art forgery career, the previous novel through the full plot, and this one in indirect, and almost comical ways.
The novel begins with Tom chilling in his house in France, noticing some annoying termites digging in his walls and thinking about how he will need to deal with them. He notices that he has a human visitor too, a teen boy, who when pressed reveals himself to be a American teenager using a fake name. It turns out that the boy is rich kid who claims to have murdered his disabled father by pushing him and his wheelchair off a cliff by the sea (if you’ve been to Newport RI, you can imagine what this scene might look like). He’s found Ripley not though his connections to murder necessarily but because of his connections to the art world, which the boy’s father told him about.
So Tom decides to help him. He starts by getting him a forged passport to get him out of France (the boy had been using his older brother’s passport, but now he’s being pursued by a private detective), and getting him to Germany. There, the boy is kidnapped, and Ripley gets further involved. And it goes from there.
The novel is interesting because it’s very different in some ways from the previous three, where there’s a crime, yes, but not really so much a scheme because it’s about whether or not Tom will able to help the boy escape, who both reminds him of himself and maybe also a kind of son figure. It’s also interesting because this novel takes place in 1980, and there’s a series of scenes at the end where Tom is walking around a punk-rock New York trying to make sense of the changed world around him, and he simply can’t.
Ripley Under water – 4/5
The final book in the Ripley series, and given how late this is in Highsmith’s career, quite successful. Tom Ripley has some new neighbors and they seem to be watching him quite a bit. He also receives a phone call one day and the voice on the other end claims to be that of Dickey Greenleaf, the man Tom Ripley killed 35 years earlier in the first book. Tom suspects it’s not really him. Further investigation suggests that these two new neighbors, a married couple who claim to be that of a housewife and business student come across pretty suspiciously. He also notices bruises on the woman’s arms, suggesting that she is the victim of domestic violence. Regardless, Tom needs to make yet another plan of how to escape exposure. Tom eventually uncovers that the couple is interested in blackmailing him (though for money or clout, it’s less obvious) because of his forgery business, but specifically for the murder of the American collector Tom kills in book two. So begins a kind of cat and mouse game in which who is the cat and who is the mouse is less clear. Tom is smarter, but there’s two of them, and of course Tom is also working to be remotely exposed — to his wife, to the public, to the police — not just implicated.