Saturday, 1 August 2009

Ripley's Game

As I listened to the third CD of the Ripley Mysteries – this time it was Ripley’s Game – I found myself admiring the intensity that Ian Hart brings to the role of Tom Ripley. I’m not familiar with Hart as an actor, but judging by these performances, he is truly a class act. He captures Tom’s ambiguous nature and handles the American accent (to my ear at least) flawlessly. It’s a very convincing portrayal.

I haven’t read the novel on which Ripley’s Game is based, and this may be a disadvantage. The story sees Tom becoming involved with an Englishman called Jonathan, who is induced by one of Tom’s dodgy chums, Reeves, to commit a murder. Soon a second commission is forthcoming, and Tom helps Jonathan out. Before long, the two men become quite attached to each other – with potentially disastrous results.

One of the off-putting features of Highsmith’s work to some readers is its heavy reliance on coincidence and on behaviour that seems irrational on the part of the leading characters. At her best, Highsmith(like the wonderful Ruth Rendell,whom she surely influenced) overcomes these difficulties triumphantly, and manages to say something of real interest about human relationships.

In this particular case, though, I wasn’t entirely convinced. Why would Tom pit himself not only against the forces of law and order, but also against the Mafia? He is impulsive and somewhat lacking in conscience, yes, but he isn’t stupid. I think I’ll have to read the novel to see if it seems more credible.

My own feeling is that Rendell is, overall, an even more successful and gifted writer than Highsmith. But that is to judge by the highest standard. Highsmith, for all her irritating quirks, is fascinating, and she played a crucial part in the development of the novel of psychological suspense.


Ali Karim said...

'm a huge fan of Highsmith, and loved the recent BBC Radio 4 dramas where they abridged each of the 5 Ripley novels into plays.

BTW - if you get a chance, search out BURIAL by Neil Cross, a wondeful hommage to Pat Highsmith, as Cross the Spooks / MI5 writer/novelist is a huge Highsmith fan. I interviewed him at Harrogate


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It would have to be a very talented author to make a reader overlook trumped up coincidences and deus ex machina. I haven't listed to a book on CD for a while...may have to change that.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Martin Edwards said...

Ali, I was interested in what Cross had to say at Harrogate and will seek out bis book.
Elizabeth, Highsmith and Rendell are two of the few who are good enough to get away with it time and again, in my opinion. Just reading a Rendell at the moment, and again coincidence looms large!