Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ripley Under Ground

In 1970, some fifteen years after her great success with the Tom Ripley character that she created for The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith released her second Ripley novel, Ripley Under Ground. This second novel of the five-novel Ripley series, finds him living a charmed life of leisure in France where he has managed to marry into a wealthy family. But, of course, someone with Ripley's desires for the wealth of others and who has no conscience about taking whatever he decides will better serve him than it serves its owner, is not content to live in the French countryside as the mediocre amateur painter that he appears to be.

As in the first novel, Ripley becomes involved in a scheme that requires him to represent himself to the police as another person while he scurries around cleaning up the mess in which he has placed himself. I don't want to risk spoiling the book for any potential readers by getting into the details of the intricate plot that Ripley and a few co-conspirators have devised in order to exploit gullible art collectors in Europe and America. I will leave it at saying only that Ripley's sociopathic personality once again serves him well and that he obviously survives this situation to appear in three subsequent novels.

I found myself much less sympathetic and intrigued by the Ripley character this time around. Perhaps that is because I read the details of this novel in the Patricia Highsmith biography, Beautiful Shadow, which I finished last month and that left few surprises for me. Highsmith never quite made me believe that the British and French police could be as unobservant and unimaginative as they were required to be in order for Ripley to pull off another of his schemes. The vision and theme of Highsmith's work is still fascinating to me and it is probably time for me to leave Mr. Ripley behind for a while and move on to novels and short stories of hers that don't involve that particular character.

Rated at: 3.0

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