Crime stories usually revolve around commissioners or private detectives who arrest criminals and help the “good” cause to be justified. If the story sells, the author can turn it into a series. Few thrillers portray the plot from the perpetrator’s point of view. First of all, that doesn’t go down very well with the audience, and secondly, the idea with the sequels is problematic – especially since most readers want the criminal to receive his “just” punishment.
Patricia Highsmith allowed herself an exception to this pattern. The US writer invented a character that seems repulsive at first glance: Tom Ripley commits a murder for low motives. In order to usurp his fortune, he kills the heir of a shipping dynasty. Before that, he has stolen the trust of his peers. The murder will never be solved. To prevent further investigation, Ripley kills a second time. Again he gets away with it. The story, set in Italy (in Venice and the fictional Mongibello, in reality the picturesque Positano on the Amalfi Coast), written in an exciting way, told not without sympathy for the protagonist, finds acceptance on the book market.
Positano bei Highsmith: The sight of a young man, presumably an American, running alone on the beach at Positano, was the starting point for Patricia Highsmith in creating two opposing, outwardly similar main characters who were later named Tom Ripley and Richard Greenleaf. (Martha Hailey Dubose: Women of Mystery, p. 329.) / Photo: Salto.bz
Patricia Highsmith leaves the 1955 published The Talented Mr. Ripley four sequels follow, the last one in 1991. In each one murder continues; however, the anti-hero is going through a positive change. He does not always think only of himself, is interested, sometimes even disinterestedly, in other people and is also committed to them. Of course he is still a criminal, but apart from the criminal files – Ripley commits them mainly to cover up past crimes – he is more and more like a model citizen. The strange thing about the Ripley crime novels is that the reader develops a certain sympathy for the villain. The author left the ending open, the idea for a sixth Ripley never left the drawer. But even at the end of the fifth and last episode, the main actor is still a free man.
The author did not have it with the law enforcement officers.
In addition to numerous short stories, Highsmith has written 17 other novels. One of them, published in 1964, is The Two Faces of January (The Two Faces of January): One man watches the other trying to make a corpse disappear. What do you do in such a moment? Call for help? Maybe look the other way? Or go to the police? Solution Highsmith: Help the man eliminate it! The author did not have it with the law enforcement officers.
Perhaps because she herself was not always on the side of the law? Highsmith couldn’t do much for that. When she began publishing novels in the first decade of the Nasch War, American society was shaped by the policies of the ultra-conservative and anti-minority Senator Joseph McCarthy. In New York, which from his point of view was promiscuous and definitely liberal, Highsmith could on the one hand pursue her inclinations, but on the other hand had to be constantly on the lookout for informers and overly compliant law enforcement officers.
Patricia Highsmith, 1962
Europe seemed to be a way out for them. First she lived in England, later for a long time in Italy and France, and finally she settled in Ticino, Switzerland. Outside the village of Tegna, she lived very secluded, surrounded by mountains, in a bungalow that looked more like a bunker than a house. She rarely received visitors. She was only satisfied with the sales of her books. In Europe alone she had received recognition as a “serious” writer and much praise from colleagues such as the Nobel Prize winner for literature, Peter Handke. At home in the States she was considered a crime writer of the literary quality of, let’s say (of course without malicious implications), Elizabeth George or later Donna Leon, who also moved from the USA to Switzerland and even, what Highsmith never did, the federal citizenship acquired.
Patricia Highsmith died on February 4, 1995 in a hospital in Locarno. She was 74 years old.