It’s a long time since I first read Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, but I enjoyed both the book and the film version starring Matt Damon. Ripley’s characertistic amorality has made him one of the most complex – and most widely discussed - villains in the history of the genre. And now, courtesy of the Crimefest quiz, I have a set of CDs of the BBC Radio adaptations of the five Ripley novels which were broadcast earlier this year.
Each of the books has been reduced to one hour, so needless to say the editing is ruthless and, inevitably, something is lost along the way. But the story is a strong and essentially simple one, and I felt that it survived the abridgement in very good shape. Tom befriends wealthy Dickie Greenleaf, and gradually starts to inhabit his life. He kills Dickie, and after various misadventures – gets away with it.
Ripley is not to everyone’s taste, but I find him extremely intriguing. When I’ve written short stories, or scenes in novels, from the perspective of amoral people, it’s been a fascinating experience. Guy, in The Arsenic Labyrinth, is such a person, and I really loved writing about him.
Highsmith famously said that she preferred to write about criminals because, for a time, they are ‘free in spirit’ and thus dramatically interesting. This may be more true of fictional criminals than the real life variety, but I can understand what she was driving at.