Monday, March 17, 2008

Ripley Under Water, by Patricia Highsmith

(hb; 1991: fifth novel in the Ripley series)

From the back cover:

"Though his talent for evil has in no way diminished, Tom Ripley has aged, even mellowed. Now leading the good life in the French countryside, complete with chic wife and devoted housekeeper, he is more interested in his wine stores than the bloodstains on his cellar floor.

"Then a meddlesome American couple takes up residence in the same village. Though at first the Pritchards seem a mere curiosity, their taste as execrable as their manners, they are annoyingly well informed about incidents in Ripley's past and almsot smug about flaunting their knowledge. This, of course, disturbs the tranquility of the charmed, cultured life for which Tom has worked so hard, and he has no choice but to bedevil the Pritchards in return..."


The fifth and final Ripley novel, a follow-up to The Boy Who Followed Ripley, showcases Highsmith's quiet flair for macabre wit -- easily my favorite novel in the Ripley series. It's devious, semi-ironic (given Ripley's reputation for murder, and some of the situations that arise from the Pritchards' presence), and positively warm -- the last phrase one would not usually apply to a Ripley book. Yes, Ripley has "mellowed," is damn near effervescent towards people as he tries to figure out exactly who David and Janice Pritchard are, and why they, initially total strangers, are stalking him.

Helping Ripley are his English friends and partners in the Buckmaster (art) Gallery, Jeff Constant and Ed Banbury (who were first introduced to readers in Ripley Under Ground). Reeves Minot, Ripley's other, separate partner-in-crime, gets a mention here, but is largely absent. Highsmith also includes other minor characters from the four previous books, and liberally infuses Ripley's last storyline with recaps from the past, as well as a corpse that just may sink Ripley, if he doesn't act quickly.

Readers who haven't read the earlier Ripley novels need not do so to enjoy this delightful wrap-up -- and best book -- of the series. It does increase one's enjoyment of the darkly funny drama, however.

If you only read one Ripley book, read this one. Career-apex work, this.

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